‘Research Rockstar’ honored for green chemistry research

Landmark clean chemistry technology

To recognize the discovery of a landmark clean chemistry technology, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded a Presidential Green Chemistry Award to Colorado State University Professor of Chemistry Eugene Chen this week.

Eugene Chen, Professor, Chemistry, Colorado State University, September 22, 2009
CSU Professor of Chemistry Eugene Chen

Chen, the only award winner recognized in the Academic category, was honored at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., for developing green condensation reactions for renewable chemicals, liquid fuels, and biodegradable polymers. Chen’s co-workers, post-doctoral fellow Miao Hong and graduate student D.J. Liu, who developed the nominated technology, also received the award and were recognized at the ceremony. This new technology is waste-free and metal-free. It offers significant potential for the production of renewable chemicals, fuels and bioplastics that can be used in a wide range of safer industrial and consumer products.

“This Presidential Award recognizes the exceptional research of Dr. Chen in sustainable chemistry,” said Chuck Henry, chair of CSU’s Department of Chemistry. “Dr. Chen’s work is in converting common renewable materials into functional molecules to create liquid fuels and useful or biodegradable materials by developing novel atom-economical green pathways. This is an important contribution to moving beyond fossil fuels and purely petroleum-based plastics and polymers.”

‘Research Rockstar’

Chen also was recognized in 2012 as a “Research Rockstar” by the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association for developing chemical processes that could create sustainable bioplastics, biofuels and other value-added chemicals from biomass.

In CSU’s Chemistry department, Chen has developed a platform of processes to convert small molecules derived from nonedible plant biomass into bioplastics. The material can be used for everything from optical fibers and contact lenses to furniture and automobile parts. He has also developed catalytic processes that refine biomass into a platform chemical that can then be converted into biofuels and other value-added chemicals.

‘A great asset to CSU’

“Researchers like Eugene Chen whose commitment to improving upon processes and ways of thinking to a more green and sustainable end are invaluable at CSU,” said Alan Rudolph, vice president for research at CSU. “Not only does he contribute to advancements in his field, but also to CSU’s commitment to our future as a research institution and a green institution. In this way, to recognize his accomplishments in chemistry is to also recognize him as a great asset to CSU.”

Along with Chen’s honor, the EPA recognized breakthrough green chemistry technologies developed by industrial pioneers and leading scientists that turn climate risk and other environmental problems into business opportunities, spurring innovation and economic development.

Solving critical environmental problems

“From academia to business, we congratulate those who bring innovative solutions that will help solve some of the most critical environmental problems,” said Jim Jones, the EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention. “These innovations reduce the use of energy, hazardous chemicals and water, while cutting manufacturing costs and sparking investments. In some cases they turn pollution into useful products. Ultimately, these manufacturing processes and products are safer for people’s health and the environment. We will continue to work with the 2015 winners as their technologies are adopted in the marketplace.”

During the 20 years of the program, the EPA has received more than 1,500 nominations and presented awards to 104 technologies. Winning technologies are responsible for annually reducing the use or generation of more than 826 million pounds of hazardous chemicals, saving 21 billion gallons of water, and eliminating the release of the equivalent of 7.8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide into the air.

More information

An independent panel of technical experts convened by the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute formally judged the 2015 submissions from among scores of nominated technologies and made recommendations to the EPA for the 2015 winners. The 2015 awards event was held in conjunction with the 2015 Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference.

For more information on this year’s winners and those from the last two decades, visit http://www2.epa.gov/green-chemistry.