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Awarding ‘green chemistry’

| By Dorothy Lozowski

One important challenge that continues to receive the attention of scientists and engineers worldwide is the creation of a more sustainable environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA; recognizes achievements in this area through the Green Chemistry Challenge Awards, which “promote the environmental and economic benefits of developing and using novel green chemistry.”

Last month, the 2020 recipients of these awards were announced. Details about the award and selection criteria can be found on the EPA’s website. The five winners of the 2020 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards are described here (Source: EPA).

Greener Reaction Conditions AwardMerck & Co. (Rahway, N.J.; was recognized for improving the process used to produce certain antiviral drugs. The existing synthesis processes were inefficient due to poor chemoselectivity and the need for multiple reaction steps that involved expensive and hazardous reagents. Merck developed a catalyst that reduced the process to two reaction steps with a high purity yield. The new process is said to improve manufacturing efficiency and sustainability of one antiviral drug by more than 85%, with improvements in energy use, water depletion and other metrics.

Greener Synthetic Pathways AwardGenomatica (San Diego, Calif.; received this award for developing a new brand of 1,3-butylene glycol — which is used in cosmetics — via a one-step fermentation process that uses renewable sugar feedstock and engineered E. coli. Genomatica’s process replaces the traditional fossil-fuel-based production route that uses acetaldehyde and heavy metals, thereby reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and eliminating the use of more hazardous materials. The company has already produced the butylene glycol at commercial scale.

Designing Greener Chemicals AwardJohns Manville, a Berkshire Hathaway Company (Littleton, Colo.; was recognized for developing a thermoset binder for fiberglass reinforcement that is approximately 90% biobased, and free from formaldehyde. The process uses renewable carbohydrates produced from corn, potato or wheat starch. In addition to eliminating formaldehyde, the new technology uses water and energy more efficiently and produces a product with performance advantages.

Academic Award — Recognition was given to professor Steven Skerlos, from the University of Michigan and Fusion Coolant Systems (Canton, Mich.; for developing a technology that uses supercritical CO 2 for metalworking in place of traditional oil-based metalworking fluids. The traditional fluids can be difficult to treat after use, because they may contain hazardous additives, or heavy metals that may be picked up during the metalworking itself. The new technology developed at the University of Michigan, and being commercialized by Fusion Coolant Systems, uses little to no oil lubricant.

Small Business Award— Vestaron Corp. (Kalamazoo, Mich.; received this award for the development of a new biopesticide that controls targeted pests with no adverse effects on the environment, people and wildlife. The novel insecticide is based on a peptide that is found in a spider’s venom. The peptide is produced by yeast fermentation using sugar derived from corn.■

Dorothy Lozowski

Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director