Fusing Green Chemistry Studies with Engineering for a Sustainable Future

Many educational institutions are incorporating green chemistry in their chemical engineering curricula. And that’s a great thing, according to the business leaders, educators and students who attended the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference in Bethesda, Md.

As IMT Career Journal sister publication IMT Green & Clean Journal reported last week, researchers sent a survey in advance of the conference asking ACS-member chemistry professionals what factors will be the most important drivers of green chemistry adoption in the next 10 years. More than half identified “better training for chemists” as the most important factor.

Many chemistry and chemical engineering students attended the ACS conference to benefit from the abundant professional expertise and insights offered. In fact, event management staff indicated that out of 488 registrants for the conference, 108 were students.

Katelyn Arionus, who is transferring to the University of California Santa Cruz from Las Positas Community College in Livermore, Calif., attended the ACS conference because of her interest in green chemistry. She explained that her faculty advisor at Las Positas, Michael Ansell, encouraged her pursuit of sustainable chemistry and is active in developing educational efforts in sustainability at the school.

“There’s a big presence for environmental and green chemistry at Las Positas. I think it’s one of the first of its kind as far as community colleges go,” she said.

Arionus looks forward to continuing her studies in green chemistry at UC Santa Cruz, which also has a strong environmental focus. “I feel that green chemistry is an important part of every career path. You can apply green chemistry to almost any job you’re going to enter.” Arionus’ goal is to work in the sustainability field.

She continued, “I know I’m going to use things that I learned at this conference. For example, how do you talk to people about green chemistry, how do you market green chemistry, how do you get people to see that it’s the most efficient, and the cheapest and cleanest way?”

Yangming Kou, also attending the conference, has been at Tufts University in Boston for one year. “I know that Tufts is a very environmentally aware school,” he told IMT Career Journal. That awareness is evident in classes and labs, as well as meetings held at the university. “I think green chemistry inspires creativity,” he said. “In many industries, pharmaceuticals, material science, people used to follow a set of protocols without really thinking about the environmental impact. So if you bring the idea of green chemistry into these industries to revise the current protocols and think about ways to eliminate waste, to reduce the use of solvents, that would result in huge economic benefits, but also help the environment, use less resources, and inspire new ways of invention.”

Kou is an international student from China, and he believes that “the discipline of green chemistry, the whole mindset, will be very helpful for the developing countries like China. Their industrial development will have a huge impact on the world in the future, and if these principles could be applied there, it would bring better lives to people without having to sacrifice the environment.”

A number of presentations at the conference focused on university research and technology-transfer programs as a source of innovation in sustainable chemistry. Private-sector interest in such programs creates both educational and career opportunities for students pursuing chemical engineering training. In a presentation about green-chemistry education, Joanna Brickman, director of collaborative innovation at Portland-based Oregon BEST (Built Environment and Sustainable Technology Center), said that “the business world really has a great need, a great demand for disruptive technology,” and university research can be a good potential source for new technologies, as well as new talent. “There’s a degree of scientific rigor that’s very difficult to get or demonstrate any other way, and you have this great pool of innovative students,” she told her audience.

Bob Hembre, senior research associate at Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, Tenn., agrees about the value of collaborative efforts between private-sector companies and universities. Eastman recently initiated a research partnership, the Eastman Innovation Center, with North Carolina State University at Raleigh. “For us,” Hembre said in a presentation, “it’s an opportunity to access a broad selection of expertise at a university. For them, I think it will be an opportunity for students to have some experience at an industrial site and see some green chemistry in action, or maybe opportunities to develop new projects that involve green chemistry.”

George Mandarakas attended the Green Chemistry and Engineering conference as a representative of chemical company BASF, where he works as open innovation leads manager. Mandarakas graduated in 2009 as a chemical engineer from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, where he was exposed to principles of green chemistry. “The chemical engineering program integrated that into it. It wasn’t a formal major, but we had an innovation center on campus and a sustainable energy department.”

Mandarakas said that at BASF, he manages “the portfolio of opportunities from startups and universities and tech transfer offices.” Mandarakas and other BASF representatives emphasized the company’s priority on sustainable chemistry: “We have a focus on sustainable activities. That’s the main focus of green chemistry, creating a sustainable future. That’s what our brand, BASF, is built upon …getting products that have longevity, that are eco-friendly that provide value long-term and innovative solutions.”

Mandarakas went to work for BASF “right out of school,” he said. He emphasized that the exposure to sustainable chemistry affected his career path and opportunities at BASF. “Just to be aware of that and have that background, it’s definitely helped to accelerate my career. I don’t think it’s something formalized, where you have to have green chemistry, but I think it’s definitely noticeable. Colleagues take note of it, managers take note of it.”

When asked if he thinks BASF is interested in more people with that background, he responded, “Definitely.”




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