By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) announced on July 21, 2022, publication of a new report entitled The Importance of Chemical Research to the U.S. Economy. The National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the American Chemical Society (ACS) asked NASEM to convene a committee to consider strategies to sustain and enhance the economic activity driven by fundamental research investments in the chemical sciences. The chapter on “Sustainability for the Chemical Economy” includes the following general conclusions:
- Implementing a circular economy will require a paradigm shift in the way products are designed, manufactured, and used, and how the waste products are collected and reused. These new processes, and the use of clean energy and new feedstocks to enable these processes, will require novel chemistries, tools, and new fundamental research at every stage of design;
- Transitioning the chemical economy into a new paradigm around sustainable manufacturing, in which environmental sustainability is balanced with the need for products that will improve quality of life, enhance security, and increase U.S. competitiveness, will require substantial investment and innovation from industry, government, and their academic partners to create and implement new chemical processes and practices;
- As fundamental chemical research continues to evolve, the next generation of research directions will prioritize the future of environmental sustainability and new energy technologies. Keeping sustainability principles in mind during every stage of research and development will be critical to accomplishing this goal;
- Chemical research will have the greatest impact addressing energy and environmental sustainability if researchers and practitioners develop and use tools to quantify and mitigate environmental and human health impacts of new discoveries, are aware of the societal implications of their work, and if the research is driven by policies that identify specific environmental sustainability outcomes; and
- As the world moves deeper into its current energy transition, including the switch to electric vehicles, the implementation of clean energy alternatives, and the use of new feedstock sources, coupled with an increasing focus on circularity, decarbonization, computation, measurement, and automation will significantly alter the operations and processes of current industries, creating new opportunities and challenges that will benefit from fundamental chemistry and chemical engineering advances.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On July 16, 2018, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a $12 million investment in the Semiconductor Synthetic Biology for Information Processing and Storage Technologies (SemiSynBio) program, a partnership between NSF and Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC). Researches expect that integrating biological structures with semiconductor technology could increase current data storage capabilities by 1,000 times, while using less energy than current technology. "While today's data storage devices are smaller and more powerful than ever before, we have the potential to catalyze a new wave of innovation that will push the boundaries for the future," stated Erwin Gianchandani, acting NSF assistant director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). Further, "[t]his research will pave the way for devices with much greater storage capacity and much lower power usage. Imagine, for example, having the entire contents of the Library of Congress on a device the size of your fingernail." The funded projects include:
- DNA-based electrically readable memories: Joshua Hihath, University of California-Davis; Manjeri Anantram, University of Washington; Yonggang Ke, Emory University.
- An on-chip nanoscale storage system using chimeric DNA: Olgica Milenkovic, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
- Highly scalable random access DNA data storage with nanopore-based reading: Hanlee Ji, Stanford University.
- Nucleic Acid Memory: William Hughes, Boise State University.
- Very large-scale genetic circuit design automation: Christopher Voigt, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Kate Adamala, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; Eduardo Sontag, Northeastern University.
- Redox-enabled Bio-Electronics for Molecular Communication and Memory (RE-BIONICS): William Bentley, University of Maryland College Park.
- YeastOns: Neural Networks Implemented in Communicating Yeast Cells: Rebecca Schulman, Johns Hopkins University; Eric Klavins, University of Washington; Andrew Ellington, University of Texas at Austin.
- Cardiac Muscle-Cell-Based Coupled Oscillator Networks for Collective Computing: Pinar Zorlutuna, University of Notre Dame.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Grow Bioplastics, a University of Tennessee student start-up, a $225,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant. The funding will support research and development on new biodegradable plastics from lignin. The biobased plastic will be used for agricultural applications, such as plastic mulch. Grow Bioplastics’ biodegradable film can be plowed into the soil after each use, offering a solution to the additional labor costs and environmental impact of current nondegradable films. According to Tony Bova, Grow Bioplastics co-founder and CEO, the “funding will help [Grow Bioplastics] validate the fundamental science behind our lignin-based plastic technology, allow us to hire our first employees here in East Tennessee, and bring us one step closer to realizing our vision for a socially and environmentally driven business model to support a circular economy.”
By Kathleen M. Roberts
On July 20, 2017, USDA released its technology transfer report for fiscal year 2016. The report outlines the public release of information, tools, and solutions and the adoption and enhancement of research outcomes by collaborative partners and formal Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA) that occurred in 2016.
The report highlights several research initiatives by ARS scientists focused on supporting the bioeconomy, including:
- Development of a new yeast strain with a unique cellulolytic enzyme that efficiently breaks down biofeedstock, shows resistance to inhibitory compounds, and eliminates the need to add other enzymes to the production process;
- Engineering a yeast strain from a Brazilian ethanol plant to convert plant xylose to ethanol and then identifying a strain with excellent performance;
- dentification of a strain of yeast capable of converting inulin, a major polysaccharide derived from coffee processing waste, into cellulosic ethanol;
- Development of genetic methods to control the conversion of agricultural sugars to compounds called liamocins using yeast; and
- Studying the use of lytic enzymes as an alternative to antibiotics for preventing and controlling bacterial contamination of fuel ethanol fermentations during biorefining.
The full report, titled “Fiscal Year 2016 Annual Report on Technology Transfer” is available on USDA’s website
On February 18, 2016, at the Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference 2016 (ABLC2016), Dr. Catherine Woteki, Chief Scientist and Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), announced the release of the Federal Activities Report on the Bioeconomy. The report was created to share current federal agency activities that help to develop and support the bioeconomy. The report first introduces the importance of fostering the bioeconomy and the purpose of the Biomass Research & Development Board. From there the report covers all research, loan, and other projects that federal agencies are currently engaged in. The agencies covered in this report are:
- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE);
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
- The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI);
- The National Science Foundation (NSF);
- The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD);
- The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT); and
- The Executive Office of the President of the United States.