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By Lynn L. Bergeson

On November 11, 2021, the University of Iowa announced that its Department of Biology scientists discovered a new type of genetic variation in yeast that can improve the production of ethanol. According to the study conducted by the University’s biologists, yeast strains with certain alleles of gene MED15 are more efficient at fermentation. The study was led by Professor Jan Fassler, who states that these findings may assist scientists in engineering a better yeast strain to produce more efficiently bioethanol for fuel and wine.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On November 23, 2021, ACS announced that it is accepting applications for its Heh-Won Chang, Ph.D. Fellowship in Green Chemistry. This opportunity provides $5,000 in financial support to full-time graduate students conducting research in green chemistry. This one-time payment may be used for any purpose, including conference travel, professional development, and living expenses while the recipient is in graduate school. This opportunity is open to full-time graduate students across the globe who have at least one full year of study remaining in their graduate programs. Recipients must present their research at the annual ACS GC&E, where the award will be presented formally. Applications are due by December 31, 2021. Additional information on application requirements is available here.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson 

On October 1, 2021, EPA announced a series of virtual meetings of the Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) Chemical Safety for Sustainability and Health and Environmental Risk Assessment (CSS HERA) Subcommittee to review recent progress and activities of the Chemical Safety Analytics (CSA) and Emerging Materials and Technologies (EMT) research areas. Meetings are open to the public, and EPA is accepting comments until November 3, 2021. Interested parties may also request the draft agenda or request to present at any of the meetings by November 3, 2021.

The initial meeting will be held over a two-day period via videoconference on November 4 and 5, 2021, from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. (EDT). Registration is required by November 3, 2021. The following meetings are also scheduled:

  • BOSC Deliberation Videoconference: November 18, 2021, from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (EST) – Registration is required by November 17, 2021.
     
  • Final BOSC Deliberation Videoconference: December 10, 2021, from 11: 00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (EST) – Registration is required by December 9, 2021.

Meeting times are subject to change.

Tags: EPA, BOSC, Research

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On June 9, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that 235 U.S. small businesses will receive $54 million in critical seed funding for 266 projects focused on developing and deploying novel technology solutions that contribute to the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Administered by DOE’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, selected projects include:

  • Grid-smart building controls;
  • Solving laser distortions; and
  • Workforce development and experiential bioenergy.

The class of awardees is designing new solutions to U.S. energy needs through carbon capture and storage, electric vehicle batteries, and solar and hydrogen power, among other types of energy. Additional information about the selected projects is available here.
 
As part of its announcement, DOE released an Inclusive Innovation Request for Information (RFI) to ensure that funding opportunities and innovation activities are more inclusive. More information on the RFI is available here. The deadline for full application submission is August 6, 2021.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson
 
On June 1, 2021, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) announced that its scientists have developed a novel solvent that results in a more efficient process to recover valuable materials from used lithium-ion batteries. According to ORNL’s press release, this new method supports a stable domestic supply chain for new batteries and keeps old ones out of landfills.
 
Currently, the recycling process of batteries involves smelting, which is an expensive, energy-intensive process that releases toxic gas. This new process developed by ORNL, however, recovers cathode materials and aluminum foils from lithium-ion batteries using a less hazardous solvent. It is a wet chemical process that uses triethyl phosphate to dissolve the binder material that adheres cathodes to metal foil. This process results in efficient recovery of cobalt-based cathodes and graphite, among other valuable materials, such as copper foils, that can be reused in new batteries. ORNL’s Ilias Belharouak stated that, in addition to repurposing materials, the new process reduces toxic exposure for workers. The full publication of ORNL’s study is available here.


 

By  Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
 
On May 4, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory published an article titled “Retrospective Analysis of the U.S. Corn Ethanol Industry for 2005-2019: Implications for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions.” Using a life-cycle analysis (LCA), researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory quantified the life cycle of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of fuels to compare relative GHG impacts among different fuel production pathways. According to the retrospective analysis conducted, since 2000, corn ethanol production in the United States quadrupled due to supportive biofuels policies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Consequently, carbon intensity (CI) over the past 15 years has significantly decreased by 23 percent. Since 2000, the corn ethanol production pathway, including corn farming and biorefineries, has substantially evolved. Researchers state in the article that this shift into more efficient farming and biorefinery practices increases revenue while also potentially reducing the emission burdens of ethanol production. DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory researchers conclude that biofuels, including corn ethanol, can and likely will play a key role in decarbonizing the U.S. economy.
 
The article’s findings will also be used by DOE to update key corn ethanol parameters in the Argonne National Laboratory’s Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Technologies (GREET) Model 2021, which will be released in October 2021.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson
 
On April 28, 2021, University of York researchers announced the discovery of a new enzyme derived from a fungus called Parascedosporium putredinis NO1, that can act as a catalyst for a biochemical reaction that breaks down forestry and agricultural waste.  The research was done in collaboration with DOE’s Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the University of Wisconsin.  This development, according to the University of York, could play a key part in upscaling renewable fuels and chemicals.  Professor Neil Bruce explained that this discovery is a breakthrough because, currently, there are no industrial biocatalytic processes for breaking down lignin, which is present in lignocellulose.  This enzyme, however, can break through the lignin to begin the degradation process needed to produce biofuels.  Professor Bruce elaborated that the “treatments with this enzyme can increase the digestibility of lignocellulosic biomass, offering the possibility of producing a valuable product from lignin while decreasing processing costs.”


 

By  Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On March 25, 2021, researchers from the University of Maryland Department (UMD) of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) published, in Nature Sustainability, a study titled “A strong, biodegradable and recyclable lignocellulosic bioplastic.”  The study outlines UMD MSE’s new in situ lignin regeneration strategy that synthesizes a high-performance bioplastic from lignocellulosic resources such as wood.  According to the published article, renewable and biodegradable materials derived from biomass often exhibit mechanical performance and wet stability that are insufficient for practical applications.  Given these circumstances, the newly developed method for bioplastic production improves efficiency and reduces environmental impacts because it involves only green and recyclable chemicals.  The study can be accessed here, detailing the process in which porous matrices of natural wood are deconstructed to form the lignocellulosic bioplastic.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson 

On February 23, 2021, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) announced that in association with other relevant Directorates-General (DG) of the European Commission (EC), DG Environment has opened a call for applications to select members for an expert group, the High-Level Roundtable on Implementation of the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. According to EU-OSHA, the expert group’s mission “is to set the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability objectives and monitor its implementation in dialogue with the stakeholders concerned.” Specific tasks include contributing to identifying and addressing social, economic, and cultural barriers to the transition toward safe and sustainable chemicals. The expert group will act as a core group of ambassadors to facilitate discussions and promote this transition in the economy and society, developing a regular exchange of views, experiences, and good practices between the EC and stakeholders on the main objectives of the Strategy, namely:

  • Innovating for safe and sustainable chemicals, including for materials and products;
     
  • Addressing pressing environmental and health concerns;
     
  • Simplifying and consolidating the legal framework;
     
  • Providing a comprehensive knowledge base on chemicals; and
     
  • Setting the example for global sound management of chemicals.

The expert group will consist of up to 32 members, with a maximum of:

  • The member state holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union;
     
  • Ten third-sector organizations in the following areas: health protection, environmental protection, human rights, animal protection, consumer rights, and workers’ rights;
     
  • Eight scientific organizations, academia, and research institutes providing a suitable balance between expertise in fundamental research, applied research, and training/education;
     
  • Ten industries, including small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) or associations of enterprises, including an adequate representation of frontrunners in the production and use of safe and sustainable chemicals. Those should include chemical industries, downstream users (from different sectors), and retailers; and
     
  • Three international organizations -- the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Interested organizations are invited to submit their applications before March 18, 2021.


 

By  Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

The Scientific Research Honor Society (Sigma Xi) is accepting nominations until January 31, 2021, for awards that recognize achievements in science or engineering research and communication. Nominations are being accepted for the following awards:

  • Gold Key Award – Presented to an individual who has made contributions to their profession and fostered critical innovations to enhance the health of the research enterprise, cultivate research integrity, and/or promote the public understanding of science.
  • William Procter Prize – Presented to a scientist who has made an outstanding contribution to scientific research and demonstrated an ability to communicate this research to scientists in other disciplines. The award includes a $5,000 honorarium and a $5,000 grant to a young colleague of the recipient’s choice.
  • John P. McGovern Award – Presented to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to science and society. It includes a $5,000 honorarium, and the individual presents his or her work at Sigma Xi’s annual meeting.
  • Walston Chubb Innovation Award – Designed to honor and promote creativity among scientists and engineers, this award provides a $4,000 honorarium and an invitation to present at Sigma Xi’s annual meeting.
  • Young Investigator Award – Includes a certificate of recognition and a $5,000 honorarium to a young scientist who has made an outstanding contribution to scientific research.
  • Evan Ferguson Award – Presented annually since 2008, this award comes with a plaque of recognition and a lifetime subscription to American Scientist.
  • Bugliarello Prize – Honors an essay, review of research, or analytical article published in American Scientist.
  • Monie Ferst Award – Presented to individuals who promote research through teaching and supervising research students.
  • Honorary Membership – Presented to noted science advocate, top science journalists, and friends of research who have made important contributions to science but are not eligible for Sigma Xi membership.

Details of eligibility and instructions for how to nominate an individual can be found here.


 
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