Chemical Society announces EPA awards for environmentally friendly technologies

06/20/05

WASHINGTON, June 20 -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will recognize six research projects today for creative chemistry that show promise for improving the environment. The award winners include scientists at Metabolix, Inc., BASF Corp., Archer Daniels Midland Company, Merck & Co., Inc., the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and Novozymes North America, Inc.

Since 1996, the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards have annually honored scientists who develop innovative chemistry to lower pollution. An independent panel of technical experts -- convened by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society -- judges the awards on behalf of stakeholders from government, industry, academia and the nonprofit sector. More than 50 awards have been presented over the past ten years.

The 2005 awards will be presented during ceremonies at the National Academies of Science:

Bacteria-based plastic process -- Researchers at Metabolix, Inc.,developed a remarkable process that uses bacteria to turn sugar and vegetable oil into plastic, and that consumes less fossil energy than traditional processes based on petroleum. Metabolix can precisely control proportions of building blocks the bacteria use to produce plastics from rigid to flexible. Although it's not the first process to coax microbes into making novel products -- most insulin for diabetics now comes from a human gene inserted into bacteria, for example -- but it may be the most ambitious. Simple as it may now sound, Metabolix with its 30 employees worked for 13 years to carry the concept to commercial reality. The company expects to start up a market-development plant later this year, aimed at industries that make plastic kitchenware, disposable items and packaging film. James Barber and Oliver Peoples of Metabolix, Inc., which is headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., will accept the award.

Environmentally friendly auto paint — A research team from BASF Corp. created an automobile primer paint that performs as well as conventional versions, with less than half the harmful volatile compounds and no need for energy-intensive 'baking.' Solvents and additives in paints are often volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that evaporate away once they've done their job of making the paint flow smoothly. But therein lies the problem. VOCs can contribute to ozone pollution and health problems, such as asthma, and several areas of the country, particularly parts of California, are setting strict schedules to curb them. BASF's answer is a primer that takes fewer steps and components to manufacture, and requires less solvent both during production and on the job. Patrick Prevost, president of chemicals, plastics and performance products at BASF Corp., will accept the award. BASF's North American Regional Headquarters is located in Florham Park, N.J.

Improved latex paint — The Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) developed a component of latex paint that that performs better than the conventional, volatile compounds that are used to give paint its smooth, consistent flow. Called ArcherRCTM, this component is derived from corn and replaces volatile organic compounds that can cause health and pollution problems. It is said to perform as well as its conventional counterparts and at comparable cost. Paul B. Mulhollem, the president and chief operating officer of ADM, which is headquartered in Decatur, Ill., will accept the award.

New process for cancer drug cuts waste and manufacturing time — Researchers from Merck & Co., Inc., developed a significantly greener, less wasteful process to manufacture a drug that reduces nausea in cancer patients. Merck commercialized its drug Emend® in 2003 to relieve nausea and vomiting, common side effects of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. At the same time, the pharmaceutical giant introduced a new method to make the drug's active ingredient, aprepitant, that reduces process waste by more than 80 percent. The researchers later developed a new process, which requires half the number of steps, doubles the overall yield and eliminates the energy-intensive cryogenics, as well as several toxic reagents and their occupational hazards. Overall, Merck has cut more than 340,000 liters of waste per 1,000 kilograms of product. Richard D. Tillyer, senior vice president of worldwide preclinical development at Merck & Co., Inc., which is headquartered in Whitehouse Station, N.J., will accept the award.

Substituting cellulose for petroleum in some plastic products — A University of Alabama research team used an abundant, renewable resource that can decrease dependency on petroleum-based plastics, and developed a method to process it that aims to be faster and more environmentally benign. The resource is cellulose, nature's most plentiful polymer, and the skeleton of virtually any plant's primary cell walls. Cheap and renewable, cellulose has long been eyed by polymer chemists: cellophane and rayon are cellulose, for instance. But very strong, zipper-like attractions between its molecules have made it one of the most challenging materials to dissolve -- the first step in processing the polymer -- without degrading or chemically altering it. The Alabama researchers have discovered what they believe can be not only a faster industrial process to dissolve cellulose, but a 'green' one as well. Robin Rogers, a chemistry professor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and the head of the research team, will accept the award.

Margarine and shortening without trans fat — A research team from Novozymes North America, Inc., and Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) developed a greener, cheaper process to make margarine and shortening from vegetable oil without generating trans fat. With mandatory labeling of trans fat coming Jan. 1, 2006, companies in the food industry have been searching for ways to lower and remove the trans fat content in a wide range of products: margarine, bread, cookies and packaged foods such as macaroni and cheese, among others. Scientific evidence shows that consumption of trans fat, as well as saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, raises "bad" LDL cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of coronary heart disease, according to an article in FDA Consumer magazine, published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Stevens W. Pearce, staff chemist of Novozymes North America, Inc., headquartered in Franklinton, N.C., and Paul B. Mulhollem, the president and chief operating officer of ADM, headquartered in Decatur, Ill., will accept the award.

The research that led to the Green Chemistry Awards will be presented during the joint meeting of the 2nd International Conference on Green and Sustainable Chemistry and the 9th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference June 20-24 in Washington, D.C. The joint meeting will be held at the Hotel Washington, 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. It will feature workshops and technical sessions on a wide range of topics from nanotechnology to sustainable energy sources. Scientists from academe, industry and government will lead the discussions.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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