Turning biomass and carbon dioxide into fuels far cleaner than traditional fossil fuels and providing water almost everywhere in the world using nanotechnology are just two examples of the transformative work that will be presented during the plenary session of the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.
The plenary talks highlight the meeting theme of “Chemistry & Global Stewardship” and feature four of the nearly 12,000 presentations taking place in San Francisco from Aug. 10 to 14. They include world leaders in this area who are providing innovative thinking in policy and science. The session will be held Sunday, Aug. 10, from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Moscone Center.
On the policy side is Heinz Leuenberger, Ph.D., director of the Environmental Management Branch of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.
“The international chemicals community, from producers to consumers, and from policymakers to the private sector, must come together to ensure its own sustainability,” he says. The major challenge facing this lofty — but attainable — goal is that economic growth is currently intertwined with the use of dwindling natural resources and the considerable damage that humans are doing to the environment, he explains. “The chemicals industry has a historic opportunity to help address this issue through innovation and efficiency gains, as well as through existing and emerging multilateral conventions,” says Leuenberger.
Heading off the issue of unsustainable fossil fuel use, Walter Leitner, Ph.D., chair of Technical Chemistry and Petrochemistry at the Institut für Technische und Makromolekulare Chemie, RWTH Aachen University, is turning the search for new sources of carbon fuel on its head. Recently, biomass and carbon dioxide have garnered much attention as alternative sources of fuel, but the growing body of work on these possibilities has focused on taking available materials, such as wood waste or corn, and seeing what kind of fuel can be coaxed from them. In a large interdisciplinary research cluster at RWTH Aachen, Leitner’s group instead engages in a collaboration with combustion engineers to investigate what kind of molecules would make the best carbon fuel. Once they figure that out, they work backward to find the best, most environmentally friendly way to produce them. “Tailor-made fuels can be produced by selective chemical transformations from biomass that does not interfere with the food chain. In the engine, they can hit the emissions sweet spot,” Leitner says. “They burn efficiently with almost no nitrous oxide and no particulate emissions.”
Addressing the problem of how to get safe water to the hundreds of millions of people who currently don’t have access to it, Pedro Alvarez, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University, says that recent advances in nanoengineered materials have great potential.
Paul Anastas, Ph.D., founder and director of the Center for Green Chemistry & Green Engineering at Yale University, will discuss how molecular design can meet many sustainability challenges, including energy issues, water purification and reducing toxicity of potentially harmful substances.
The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 161,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.
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