• UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Softball: UCSB Closes Out Mary Nutter Classic With Losses to No. 8 Washington, No. 21 Arizona State https://t.co/F5JGYXZ9Ty
    6 hours 24 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WWP: Gauchos Defeat No. 16 UCSD in Final Game of Barbara Kalbus Invitational https://t.co/ieJb9ZsJIq
    6 hours 25 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    .@UCSB_Baseball walks off in wild series finale, clinches sweep of Tulane! RECAP >>> https://t.co/Q4akiOPaVh https://t.co/6pWsFLhNmf
    8 hours 55 min ago
  • ArtsandLectures twitter avatar
    Celebrate the traditions of the gaucho with Argentina's #CheMalambo on Sunday, Apr 23 at 7PM at UCSB Campbell Hall.… https://t.co/z7Qvi0p9UV
    17 hours 16 min ago
  • ucsantabarbara twitter avatar
    #UCSB professor Luyendyk never intended ‘Zealandia’ to be a new continent's name. https://t.co/aB4RRpsEUj
    18 hours 24 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Softball: Altmeyer Smashes Two Homers, Including Walk-Off Winner in 6-5 Win Over No. 20 Missouri https://t.co/Upedr26iud
    1 day 3 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Jacob Delson had 34 kills, most by UCSB MVB player since 2010, but Gauchos drop tight five-setter at UCI. RECAP >>>… https://t.co/q5KGaJXpXe
    1 day 5 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Women's Tennis: UC Santa Barb. 0, Washington 7 (Final) UCSB Falls to 34th-ranked Washington, 0-7 https://t.co/bERvf7q21G
    1 day 6 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WWP: Gauchos Split Games on Day Two of Barbara Kalbus Invitational, Face No. 16 UCSD Tomorrow https://t.co/C2cigLAaAg
    1 day 7 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WBB: UCSB Drops Decision At #BWCWBB Leading UC Davis 70-61 To Close Regular Season Road Campaign https://t.co/Bj1F1AtnZM
    1 day 9 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    .@UCSB_Baseball's offense explodes, Cohen goes yard twice in 14-1 rout of Tulane! RECAP >>> https://t.co/8weh6VX0IB https://t.co/2IvFPM1wKS
    1 day 9 hours ago
  • ucsantabarbara twitter avatar
    From theory to practice, this week's #GauchoCourse prepares soon-to-be professors for the real world. https://t.co/DAj0nUIwAw
    1 day 19 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    MVB: Gauchos snap 7 match losing streak with emphatic sweep of UCSD on Friday night. RECAP >>>… https://t.co/Cee1KbeXOh
    2 days 5 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Women's Tennis: UC Santa Barb. 2, Oregon 5 (Final)
    2 days 7 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WBB: Gauchos Face First-Place UC Davis Looking to End Two-Game Skid https://t.co/wRGTYxtxDC
    2 days 8 hours ago

New Center at UCSB Aims to Help Shift Chemical Industry Toward Sustainability

Monday, October 15, 2012 - 17:00
Santa Barbara, CA

What if plastic pipes, pantyhose, backpacks, and plastic bags could be made from renewable sources rather than from chemicals that come from oil? What if the chemical industry could use the carbon dioxide produced by power plants to create these and many other products? Can plants and wood be broken down into useful chemicals for the production of the consumer and industrial goods essential to our modern society?

The need for this type of sustainability in the chemical industry has captured the imagination of scientists at UC Santa Barbara and collaborators from three other universities. This creative team of researchers hopes to develop new chemical "feedstocks" –– the resources from which plastic and other products are made. These scientists have established a new center to pool their talent, experience, and ideas.

"My goal is to go after the projects that will take the combined intellectual talent and experience that we have in this group, and appeal to their idealism –– to take a chance and see if we can make a real impact," said Peter C. Ford, principal investigator of the new center and professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The new center, called CenSURF, short for Center for the Sustainable Use of Renewable Feedstocks, will receive $1.75 million over three years from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The university's proposal was one of only three funded from about 50 submitted in response to NSF's national call for centers for chemical innovation focused on the development of clean, safe, and economical alternatives to traditional chemical products and practices.

"The idea is to get outside of our comfort zone into research that might have a large impact," said Ford, adding that, without this kind of funding, the research would not be possible.

In addition to research, the center will conduct outreach to local schools, from kindergarten through 12th grade, and to the larger scientific community. A new course in sustainable chemistry for upper division college students will be developed. Other forms of educational innovation will be pursued, to help promote an ethic of sustainability in the chemical sciences.

One part of the center's research will focus on carbon dioxide as a feedstock, instead of a non-renewable resource such as petroleum. "You would probably not use carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere because it is too dilute, but you would take it from fixed sources," said Ford. "Carbon dioxide is produced in large quantities at power plants, and that's a fixed location source. We want to try to capture some of that and utilize it."

Producing organic compounds like ethylene from carbon dioxide by using electrochemistry will require energy, said Ford, adding that sustainability will not be achieved if fossil fuels are used. So, the research team promotes the use of solar-based electricity to convert carbon dioxide to a reduced form such as ethylene.

The second project will focus on biomass from plants. Plants form complex organic materials, and their chemical use is still in its infancy. Biomass is produced by photosynthesis, which uses light and water to convert carbon dioxide into various materials. Of particular interest to CenSURF researchers is non-food biomass, such as forest and agricultural waste.

"The real challenge will be the conversion of lignocellulose –– a combination of the non-digestible biopolymers cellulose and lignin –– to usable chemicals," said Ford. "It's fair to say that cellulose is the most plentiful biopolymer on the planet, and lignin is the second most plentiful. Lignin is a particularly tough challenge, because it's a very complex material. Part of our goal here is developing methodologies for converting lignin to simpler chemicals as starting points for the chemical industry to use."

The center will use catalysts that are based on Earth-abundant elements, avoiding rare elements such as platinum. Ford explained that rare elements add to cost, but more importantly, the use of these prevents future generations from using them, since they cannot be replaced. He said that the definition of sustainable chemistry is using resources at a rate at which they can be replaced naturally.

The new center involves chemists at three other universities. They are Clifford P. Kubiak of UC San Diego; Louise A. Berben of UC Davis; and Kevin D. Moeller of Washington University, St. Louis. The UCSB team includes Susannah L. Scott, co-principal investigator and professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering; and Petra van Koppen, co-principal investigator and senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The other members of the team from UCSB's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry are Alison Butler, professor; Darby Feldwinn, lecturer; Trevor W. Hayton, associate professor; and R. Daniel Little, professor. Baron Peters, assistant professor in UCSB's Department of Chemical Engineering, is also a member of the team.

 

 


 

 

[RETURN TO TOP]  

 

 

Top image: Scientists at CenSURF intend to develop strategies to convert cellulose and lignin from plants and wood into simpler chemicals as starting points for use by the chemical industry.
Credit: Courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

 

Peter C. Ford
CenSURF