The Ultimate “Summer Camp” for Green Chemistry Enthusiasts: My Inspirational Experiences at the ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy

By Lisa Kozycz, Member-at-Large for the GCI

Last month I had the opportunity to participate in the ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado and I’d like to use this month’s blog to share some of my amazing experiences.

Group shot

Group shot of all the ACS Summer School attendees. I am at the far right in the second row.

The summer school was nothing like your ordinary conference; a typical day consisted of four “lecture periods” with ample opportunity to network with the 55 participants (graduate students and post-docs) and close-knit group of speakers (professors, industry professionals, and entrepreneurs). Lectures covered a wide variety of topics including green chemistry principles, solvent selection, ionic liquids, fuel cells (including the chance to ride in a fuel cell car!), green business creation, and greening the undergraduate teaching laboratory, just to name a few. There were also lectures on useful tools for graduate students and post-docs such as writing papers and grant proposals, and a summary of resources provided by the ACS. In addition to lectures, we had the opportunity to present our own research at one of two evening poster sessions, as well as learn about what the other participants were working on. Getting to learn about research from all different fields and parts of the world, with the one uniting theme of green chemistry, was such a unique and valuable experience that would not be possible at any other conference.

Rafting

Rafting on Clear Creek (I’m at the front left).

The summer school was definitely not “all work and no play,” as several fun activities were planned for us including line dancing and white water rafting in Clear Creek (the source of the water used to make Coors beer!). Free time in the evenings was used to explore the beautiful town of Golden, hiking through the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, and trying out the many microbreweries Golden has to offer.

ACS President

Getting my certificate from ACS President Tom Barton.

The summer school ended with a closing dinner including presentation of certificates from ACS President, Tom Barton, who shared inspirational words that chemistry is here to stay and the future is green!

My personal favourite part of the summer school was getting to meet the participants who came from all over Canada, the United States, and even South America. It was so exciting to see the green chemistry enthusiasm coming from so many diverse schools and chemistry backgrounds, and it gave me hope knowing that the next generation of chemists is ready to work together to make the field safer and more sustainable. Of course I took the opportunity to spread the word about the GCI and even tried to encourage my new friends to start green chemistry groups at their own schools, so hopefully the GCI will have some new allies in the near future!

Needless to say, I would highly recommend the summer school to anyone interested in learning more about green chemistry. Little to no prior green chemistry background is required, just an open mind and the willingness to share your thoughts and ideas. More information can be found on the ACS website. Applications are typically due in May and if your application is selected then all costs not covered by your supervisor (up to 100%) will be paid for by the ACS. If anyone has any questions or would like help putting together an application for next year, don’t hesitate to post in the comments below or contact me directly.

CSM View

Beautiful view of Colorado School of Mines from South Table Mountain.

 

Green Chemistry Principle #3: Less Hazardous Synthesis

By Kenny Chen, Member-at-Large for the GCI and Laura Reyes, Co-Chair for the GCI

3. Wherever practicable, synthetic methods should be designed to use and generate substances that possess little or no toxicity to human health and the environment.

The idea of practicing safe chemistry sounds intuitive, but contemporary technology, policy, and knowledge of long-term health and environmental impacts are often limiting factors in determining how safe a process is. In other words, scientists are always working with what they have in terms of technology and knowledge of hazards, and that story may change as we learn more.

In our video, we briefly described the recent history of technologies used to generate chlorine gas, focusing on the transition from mercury cell processes to membrane cell processes.

Chlorine has been produced industrially since the 19th century, when it was widely used in textiles and paper industries. Nowadays, it is essential in many plastics and chemical industries, for example to make the plastic polyvinyl chloride or PVC.

In the past, the mercury cell process was widely used to make chlorine. We now know that resulting contamination from mercury waste has tragic health and environmental effects, but that was not always the case due to previous limitations in technology, knowledge of heavy metal accumulation, and resulting policies. For example, as we talk about in the video, the mercury cell-based chloralkali process caused the infamous case of Minamata disease that struck Ontario in 1970, severely affecting two native communities.

Now, the membrane cell is the preferred choice for the chloralkali process. The increased use of this cellulose-based technology has resulted in decreased use of the mercury cell, which in turn has reduced mercury emissions into the environment.

Despite large improvements, even in 2013 more than 5 tonnes of mercury were released into the environment due to the chloralkali process, which leaves significant room for improvement as we move forward, whether by improved technology or stricter regulation.

Sometimes, we can’t help but learn new information over time about the long-term safety of technologies and chemical processes. Even so, we must use the knowledge that is available at all times so that we can create and modify processes that are less hazardous by design. In this way, we will have inherently safer chemistry by keeping green chemistry principle #3 in mind.

References

Handbook of Chlor-Alkali Technology – History of the Chlor-Alkali Industry (http://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2Fb113786)

Best Available Techniques (BAT) Reference Document for the Production of Chlor-alkali (http://www.eurochlor.org/chlorine-industry-issues/chlor-alkali-bref.aspx)

Chlorine Industry Review 2013-2014 (http://www.chlorinethings.eu/files/downloads/annual-report-2014-full-final.pdf)

Why I Do Green Chemistry

By Mark Miltenburg, Member-at-Large for the GCI

Mark GCI Blog

This is my green chemistry story. What’s yours? Tell us in the comments!

One of the greatest challenges that scientists face is communicating our work effectively to people outside of our field. This partly stems from researchers getting lumped together as part of a faceless group of “chemists” or “scientists,” rather than being perceived as individual members. Nobody enjoys a group dictating to him or her what to think or do, so this dehumanized entity causes difficulty in getting people to listen to what you have to say. I have even noticed this problem as a member of the GCI trying to reach other chemists; our message gets understood very differently from what we intend because people hear the word “green” and immediately assume that as a member of the GCI I am judging them and their work, which is certainly not the case.

In an effort to combat this, I thought I would use my turn writing the GCI blog to try and humanize our group a bit by sharing my own reasons for joining the GCI and what I hope other chemists can take away from our work, and inviting others to share their own stories about their interests in green chemistry.

I did a co-operative program for my undergraduate degree, and as part of my work placements, I got to interact with scientists and engineers at major companies such as Honda Canada Inc., Diageo plc, and Rockwell Automation. I saw firsthand the industrial chemical systems that are used, and the scales at which they operate. Viewed on this scale, green chemistry just makes sense, as these places spend huge sums of money disposing of enormous amounts of waste and ensuring that they are operating under safe working conditions. As a result of this scale, these companies are constantly looking for greener solutions, as they make sense from both economical and publicity standpoints. I think Dr. Cameron Cowden, Executive Director of Process Research at Merck & Co., Inc., said it very well at our GCI Workshop when he remarked that green chemistry “is just smart chemistry.”

Simple Techniques to Make Everyday Lab Work Greener

Here are 10 simple tips to make everyday lab work greener. Feel free to print it out and post it in your own lab!

As a graduate student, I know that for most of us it is impossible to completely overhaul our research in order to make it completely green, and I don’t think that’s the aim of the GCI; we are all graduate students who want to graduate someday. We only hope to educate chemists so that they are aware of solvents,waste, etc. when they go about their research, and trust that when these things are actively taken into consideration, chemists will naturally make an effort to make their research greener. I also know that there are relatively simple ways to make research greener, which won’t impact results, and aren’t currently used because many people are not aware of them. For a great resource on some of these simple techniques, check out this poster prepared by the GCI (and hang it in your lab to share it with others!).

What made you interested in green chemistry? Add your stories in the comments.