View from the USA: The government is on the hunt for ground-breaking solutions.
Published in Bio-Based World News
November 8, 2016
In the latest in a series of guest views from the USA, Michele Jalbert, chief operating officer, and Corinne Young, chief advocate, of the Renewable Chemicals & Advanced Materials Alliance (re:chem), address US government efforts to promote green chemistry. Over two decades ago, the “12 Principles of Green Chemistry” codified a new “systems perspective” for thinking about chemistry. These principles encouraged scientists to focus on designing processes and materials to reduce or eliminate hazardous substances when they are first created. The approach offered a stark contrast to the pollution control efforts so prevalent in the early 90s, which sought to mitigate hazards and limit toxic exposure after the fact. Since those early days, green chemistry has progressed from a transformative vision to a burgeoning movement — enabling safer molecules designed from the get-go, for a sustainable economy and a healthier world. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was an early champion of this systems approach, launching the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards (PGCCA) in 1996. Each year, these prestigious annual awards recognize novel chemical technologies that incorporate the principles of green chemistry into chemical design, manufacture, and use. The PGCCA program calls out the best innovative thinking in the green chemistry arena, looking for ground-breaking solutions to all kinds of environmental problems.
The environmental benefit has been significant. Per the EPA program office, over the last two decades, PGCCA-winning technologies have:
•Eliminated 826 million pounds of hazardous chemicals and solvents each year – enough to fill almost 3,800 railroad tank cars or a train nearly 47 miles long.
•Saved 21 billion gallons of water each year—the amount used by 820,000 people annually.
•Eliminated 7.8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents released to air each year—equal to taking 810,000 automobiles off the road.
These benefits represent just the 109 PGCCA winners over 20 years – when the more than 1500 other nominees are also considered, the environmental benefits are multiplied many times over.
The EPA recently announced that nominations are now being accepted for the 2017 program, with all application packages due December 31, 2016. While applications must incorporate a significant chemistry component, the EPA holds an expansive view, focusing on the use of chemistry for source reduction. Thus, chemical technologies that include recycling, treatment, or disposal may meet the scope of the program if they offer source reduction over competing technologies.
There are typically six awards each year, with this year’s categories including greener synthetic pathways, greener reaction conditions and the design of greener chemicals. There are categories for academic institutions, small business and a special category focused on climate changes for technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Those considering this program should move quickly – the EPA process is rigorous and comprehensive. Investing in thoughtful preparation of the PGCCA application, however, pays significant dividends. In the US, winning the PGCCA has significantly benefited those companies pioneering in green chemistry – they enjoy appreciable marketing and reputation enhancement. Successfully navigating through the rigorous PGCCA application process also introduces the EPA early to a company’s novel chemistry, facilitating US regulatory review when the product is ready for introduction to the market.
The Renewable Chemical & Materials Alliance (re:chem) was founded by four PGCCA-winning companies, which is one of the reasons doors open to us when we are moving a policy agenda forward in Washington DC. Having successfully shepherded several winning nominations, we can attest to the tangible and intangible benefits of participating in this program. The EPA deserves credit for pioneering – then institutionalizing – national recognition of the promise of green chemistry.