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In which I attempt to answer Janet Clark's question regarding GreenChemistry, whilst simultaneously making a blatant plug for my employer (andthe wise use of your tax dollars)



Title: Message
Our friend Janet Clark [clarkjan@turi.org], who has more web sites on her signature line than anyone else I know,  recently poked her head up (virtually speaking) from her idyllic surroundings near Walden Pond, to contemplate the following:
 
> What kinds of topics are you finding in the research community concerning green chemistry?
 
Janet --
 
One of the problems that anyone faces in researching a question like this, is identifying "green" chemistry/chemical engineering research.  I think this is not unique to chemistry  -- much green innovation happens under the guise of other drivers and doesn't get noticed by the P2 community.  As a result, the research perhaps doesn't get transferred as rapidly to other applications as it might otherwise.
 
With regard to green chemistry (and I will suggest, green chemical engineering, since us glorified plumbers don't like to be left out), I'll use as my example the microcosm of our own Lab.  For the past 19 years I've worked at Pacific NW National Lab, which is a large (3,500+ employees) Department of Energy research Lab operated for the DOE by Battelle Memorial Institute.  Like many of the DOE labs, much of our work involves process development aimed at promoting the use of renewables, improving energy efficiency, reducing societal risks, and similar goals that are well-aligned with green chemistry principles.  But most of the work in this area is not specifically viewed by the researchers involved as "green" chemistry, per se -- in fact, there's sometimes a bit of a stigma attached to such a label because some (though certainly not the majority) of research chemists see that term as too trendy, and too applied to apply to their research.
 
Most of the time, researchers are simply not focused on the environmental benefits of their work, even though they are vaguely aware that they exist.  Similarly, researchers in this area are generally talking to other chemists and engineers, and not to the P2 community per se.  For example, we shared a US EPA Green Chemistry award a couple of years ago for our involvement in some chemicals from biomass research, but most of the research group involved in this work (which I once belonged to, years ago) didn't know anything about the award until after it had been announced that we won. 
 
Searching specifically for Green Chemistry research on the PNNL web site will turn up relatively little.  Yet, a couple of  links to research on "green-ish" chemistry/chemical engineering research here at PNNL include the following relevant efforts: 
 
Micro Chemical and Thermal Systems Research -- This program looks at the use of microscale technology for chemical processing, which uses new fabrication technologies to build very small, very efficient heat exchangers, reactors and separation devices.  Long-term applications are likely to include a number of environmental applications including energy recovery, more selective reactors, and inherently scaleable/inherently safer reactor technologies.  This is an important example of a broader concept known as process intensification which I think is critical to the evolution of green chemical engineering.  
http://www.pnl.gov/microcats/
 
Supercritical fluids --  Some of the patents underlying commercial supercritical CO2 processes were actually filed by researchers at our Lab, who have been working on supercritical detergency and co-solvation issues for close to two decades. 
http://www.pnl.gov/supercriticalfluid/
 
Bio-based materials --  The opportunity to work with biomass is what originally brought me to the laboratory in 19 years ago.  We're currently involved in quite a few projects related to both thermal-chemical (e.g., catalytic) and biochemical (enzymatic) processes for extracting or converting biomass substrates (including all sorts of interesting waste streams) into useful renewable chemicals.    And I can tell you from (recent) first-hand experience, there's nothing quite as rewarding as coming to work in the morning knowing that if you're experiments are successful, you're going to be turning cow manure into.....well, ANYTHING that ISN'T cow manure!   
http://www.pnl.gov/biobased/
 
It would be interesting (and perhaps a group like TURI is the one to do it) to look at the chemistry/chemical engineering literature and see how much "Green" chemistry goes unreported as such, for similar reasons.  
 
Hope this helps,

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Scott Butner
Director, ChemAlliance
c/o Pacific NW National Laboratory
PO Box 999
Richland, WA  99352
Voice: (509)-372-4946/Fax: (509) 375-2443
Website: http://www.chemalliance.org/
E-mail: scott.butner@pnl.gov
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