Congratulations to the 2021 Recipients of the ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering Lectureship Awards! - ACS Axial
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Congratulations to the 2021 Recipients of the ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering Lectureship Awards!

The Editors of ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering and the ACS Green Chemistry Institute are pleased to announce the three award winners of the 2021 ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering Lectureship Awards. These awards recognize the research contributions of scientists in three geographical regions, working in green chemistry, green engineering, and sustainability in the chemical enterprise. The winners must have started their initial academic appointment within the past 10 years or have received their terminal degree/completed their last professional training within the last 10 years.  Congratulations to the 2021 award recipients representing the three regions: The Americas, Europe/Middle East/Africa, and Asia/Pacific.

Read my interviews with the 2021 Recipients of the ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering Lectureship Awards:

Jun Huang, The University of Sydney

How is your research specifically important to your region of the world versus on a global scale?

Sustainable development is a significant challenge for the Asia/Pacific region since its population is over 4.3 billion, 60% of the world’s population, with increasing demand for energy and chemicals as well as increasing waste and CO2 emissions in the region. My research is to address the fundamental issues for sustainability in the region and is focused on the development of novel catalysts and catalytic technologies to minimize CO2 emissions for oil-refining, to advance biorefining for renewable resources, and to convert CO2 and solid wastes to high-value fuels and chemicals. My research outcome enhances the economics of sustainable technologies and will promote the commercialization of them in most developing countries in the region.

What would you like government and/or industry representatives to understand about your research?

My research is a significant step forward in solving the current major technical and economic challenges faced in sustainable development. Our outcomes can be moved out of the laboratory and into industry.

Tell us about a research collaboration your group has undertaken.

My group is active in international collaboration. I successfully led the catalysis sub-team in the EU Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, Research, and Innovation Staff Exchange (H2020-MSCA-RISE 2015-2018) ‘Development of flexible pyrolysis-catalysis processing of waste plastics for the selective production of high-value products through research and innovation, €634.5k’. This great success has facilitated the team to continuously be awarded another EU Horizon 2020 project in 2019-2022 ‘Biomass gasification with negative carbon emission through innovative CO2 capture and utilization and integration with energy storage, EU€832k’. My group is also an active member of the Global Network of Green Materials with CNRS, NIMS, National Taiwan University, Waseda University, National Singapore University, and Hokkaido University.

We have a long-term collaboration with ETH Zurich, Universities of Leeds, Stuttgart, Bremen, Tufts, and Lille. Supported by the University of Sydney’s Collaboration Award grants, we built up new collaborations with UC Davis, SLAC Stanford, Ames Lab, Brookhaven National Lab, National Taiwan University, Tsinghua University, and Zhejiang University.

Within the University of Sydney, I have initiated and been successfully leading the Sydney Nano Grand Challenge of “Nanotechnology for Carbon-Neutral Manufacturing” for CO2 conversion and H2 production that brings together 15 experts cross 6 schools in nanocatalysis, process engineering, artificial intelligence and machine learning, quantum physics, and chemistry, molecular science, and computation, as well as characterization on an integrated platform for advanced carbon-neutral manufacturing.

What type of work can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

My group has developed a combined in situ characterization platform of spectroscopy and microscopy. The capability to ‘see inside both the reaction and catalyst’ provides quantitative and qualitative results necessary to significantly improve the catalyst design and optimize the reaction process. Based on the in situ platform, we will develop multi-functional catalysts for CO2 conversion and biorefining to high-value fuels and chemicals using low-cost catalysts and simple operational processes.

Jeremy Luterbacher, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

How is your research specifically important to your region of the world versus on a global scale?

Sustainability is a global problem and chemistry research applied to sustainability is similarly global. Our ultimate hope is that it will lead to the adoption of new industrial products or processes that reduce environmental impacts. Where that happens is not important. Since Europe is probably the continent that, politically, is taking climate change and environmental issues most seriously, implementation of our work might receive more early-implementation support on this continent; but at the rate things are changing, that’s not a given.

What would you like government and/or industry representatives to understand about your research?

A lot of our work has been about building chemistry that fits the plant’s chemical structure. This leads to much more efficient, sustainable, and seemingly cost-effective solutions than trying to retrofit plant chemistry to petroleum chemistry. However, industry often wants the exact molecules they already use, but just made from renewable sources. I think it would be more forward-thinking to rethink their conversion chains based on what is actually available in nature.

Tell us about a research collaboration your group has undertaken.

We have begun to scale up some of the production of the acetal-based processes and molecules, the development of which was recognized by this prize. This has allowed us to begin collaborations with several industrial partners in the fragrance, flavor, and food packaging sector who are testing these products and hopefully guiding us towards commercialization.

What type of work can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

We plan to continue to develop processes and products that are centered around plant chemical structures. In other words, we want to redesign chemical conversion routes to take full advantage of what nature provides. This will often lead to different molecules and materials than those available today, but which are hopefully more sustainable to produce, and perhaps even safer to use and dispose of.

Meagan Mauter, Stanford University

How is your research specifically important to your region of the world versus on a global scale?

The mission of the Water & Energy Efficiency for the Environment Lab (WE3Lab) is to advance the energy efficiency of desalination. We pursue this mission by bridging novel unit process development with equation-oriented process optimization and computational systems analysis to identify and develop high impact innovations for decarbonizing water supply. This work is important both for securing global water supplies and for ensuring that supplying water does not negatively impact our global climate. Some of our most recent research on the synergistic operation of water and electricity grids will find special relevance here in California, where innovative electricity market structures provide unique incentives for water utilities to sell energy flexibility services to the grid.

What would you like government and/or industry representatives to understand about your research?

Government and industry tend to address the twin crises of water scarcity and degraded water quality with large-scale infrastructure investments— picture a 50 million-gallons-per-day coastal desalination facility. While these historic investments will continue to provide a large fraction of our water supply, our research suggests that small-scale, decentralized water reuse systems may provide a more cost-effective solution to augmenting our future water supply. Realizing this future will require R&D investments in autonomous, precise, resilient, process intensified, modular, and electrically powered technologies that support locally tailored treatment of nontraditional waters at a cost comparable to other sources. Realizing this future will also require policy levers for incentivizing decentralized water reuse. Unlike traditional grants made to water utilities to subsidize large capital projects, distributed water system deployment may require targeted tax incentive programs similar to those that have effectively spurred the growth of distributed solar generation. Finally, creating a “Water Information Administration” modeled on the Energy Information Administration would provide robust scientific and economic information to foster a comprehensive and systemic understanding of the country’s changing water needs, including supply, demand by sector and end-use, and flows

Tell us about a research collaboration your group has undertaken.

I’m very excited about several new research collaborations here at Stanford and SLAC. The first uses SLAC’s beamline to perform high-fidelity operando measurements of concentration polarization and mass transfer rates in membrane-based processes using X-ray particle image velocimetry and confocal X-ray micro fluorescence techniques. We hope to use these measurements to better understand how concentration polarization limits performance in membrane separation processes, to validate CFD models of heat and mass transport in complex module geometries, and to design spacers and modules to promote mixing. I’m also excited to continue my collaboration with my colleague Ram Rajagopal to develop a cloud-coordinated platform for optimizing the operation of a wastewater treatment facility’s treatment, energy recovery (biogas generation), and energy storage units for maximum financial benefit.

What type of work can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

I am very passionate about securing global water supplies while simultaneously accelerating the decarbonization of the water industry. We have forthcoming work on electrified alternatives to carbon-intensive aqueous separation processes, as well as work in managing water treatment plants to provide demand response services to the grid. I am also expanding my investment in understanding water-related constraints to deep decarbonization and we have a forthcoming manuscript on the energy and emission penalties of high salinity brine treatment from geologic carbon sequestration.

Read more about the winners in this editorial in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. The winners will be recognized at the upcoming 2021 ACS Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in keynote presentations.

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