By Richard E. Engler, Ph.D.
On June 12, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded the 2017 Green Chemistry Challenge Award winners at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in conjunction with the 21st Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference. The award recognizes landmark green chemistry technologies developed by industrial pioneers and leading scientists that turn potential environmental issues into business opportunities, spurring innovation and economic development. The American Chemical Society (ACS) Green Chemistry Institute convened an independent panel of technical experts to judge the 2017 submissions and make recommendations to EPA regarding the winners.
This year's winners and technologies are:
Over the course of the Green Chemistry Challenge’s 22 year history, EPA estimates that 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 7.8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent releases to air. While we are saddened that this very successful voluntary program is slated to be defunded in the President's FY2018 budget, we applaud this year’s winners. Those who value the green chemistry program should consider contacting their Senators and Representatives to encourage continued support of this program. It has had outsized benefits for such a modestly funded program.
On June 9, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the winners of the 2017 Green Chemistry Challenge Award (GCCA). We applaud this year’s winners. This is EPA’s 22nd year of using the GCCA to honor green chemistry technologies that spur economic growth, reduce costs, and decrease waste. We are saddened that this very successful voluntary program is slated to be defunded in the President's Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget, which, of course, must be approved by Congress and is unlikely to be in its current form. Those who value the green chemistry program may wish to consider contacting their Senators and Representatives to encourage continued support of this highly successful and important program. It has had outsized benefits for such a modestly funded program.
This year's winners and technologies are:
- Merck & Co., Inc. in Greener Synthetic Pathways - Letermovir: A Case Study in State-of-the-Art Approaches to Sustainable Commercial Manufacturing Processes in the Pharmaceutical Industry
Merck’s approach was to design an efficient synthesis as early as possible in the drug Letermovir’s process development. Using “high-throughput” techniques, Merck was able to find a low-cost, stable, and easily recyclable catalyst along with other process improvements that increase the yield, and reduce the raw material costs by 93 percent, the water usage by 90 percent, and the carbon footprint by 89 percent.
- Amgen Inc. and Bachem in Greener Reaction Conditions - Green Process for Commercial Manufacture of Etelcalcetide Enabled by Improved Technology for Solid Phase Peptide Synthesis
Amgen Inc. worked with Bachem to improve the manufacturing process for the active ingredient in ParsabivTM, a drug that treats secondary hyperparathyroidism in adult patients with chronic kidney disease. By redesigning the peptide manufacturing process to use four optimized stages rather than the original five stages, Amgen and Bachem were able to achieve a 500 percent increase in manufacturing capacity while reducing chemical solvent use by 71 percent, manufacturing operating time by 56 percent, and manufacturing cost by 76 percent.
- The Dow Chemical Company and Papierfabrik August Koehler SE in Designing Greener Chemicals - Breakthrough Sustainable Imaging Technology for Thermal Paper
While there is still not a definitive answer as to whether the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in thermal paper may present risk, Dow and Koehler sought an innovative alternative that not only avoids the need for BPA (or analogs that have similar toxicological properties), but also eliminates some of the drawbacks of thermal paper, notably that exposure to sunlight or other heat sources often destroys the image. Together they developed a three-layer paper. The top layer is an opaque, light-color.When heat is applied in the printing head, the hollow particles that make up that opaque layer collapse and become transparent, showing an underlying dark layer only at those points. The paper is designed to work in existing equipment, so there is no need for retailers to replace equipment.
- UniEnergy Technologies LLC in Small Business - The UniSystemTM: An Advanced Vanadium Redox Flow Battery for Grid-Scale Energy Storage
UniEnergy Technologies, LLC (UET) and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) developed and commercialized an advanced vanadium redox flow battery that allows cities and businesses more access to stored energy. The vanadium electrolyte has double the energy density of prior chemistries, and a much broader operating temperature, allowing for a longer lasting battery that can be deployed in nearly any ambient environment on earth. Additionally, the electrolyte, with a chloride-based chemistry complex, is more stable than traditional sulfate-based chemistries, and because it is water-based and does not degrade, the batteries are non-flammable and recyclable.
- Professor Eric J. Schelter of the University of Pennsylvania in Academic - Simple and Efficient Recycling of Rare Earth Elements from Consumer Materials Using Tailored Metal Complexes
Professor Eric Schelter developed a simple, fast, and low-cost technology to help recycle mixtures of rare earth elements (La-Lu, Sc, and Y). These elements are integral to modern technologies, but have a highly energy intensive and waste generating mining, refining, and purification process. Currently, only one percent of these materials are recycled, but Professor Schelter’s group has developed tailored organic compounds that can simply and effectively separate mixtures of these metals. A recent U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant will support further development of this technology to turn these into industrial viable recycling processes.
The GCCA winners were honored on June 12, 2017, at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in conjunction with the 21st Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference.
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On May 23, 2017, President Trump released the Administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2018, which includes significant cuts to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) budgets. According to the proposed budget, funding for DOE would be cut by 5.6 percent to $28 billion, with $636 million allotted for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and $56.6 million for the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO). The proposed DOE budget aims to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), which advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment.
The proposed EPA budget of $5.7 billion would cut funding by 31 percent when compared to estimated 2017 appropriations. Funding for the Clean Power Plan and climate change research and partnership programs, such as the Energy Star program, would be eliminated. Also included in the cuts would be a $17 million reduction in funding for the Federal Vehicle and Fuels Standards and Certifications program, which oversees the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. According to EPA, it will continue to implement, maintain oversight of, and evaluate compliance with the RFS program in 2018.
Under the proposed budget, funding for mandatory USDA programs would decrease from $123 billion in FY 2017 to $116 billion in FY 2018 and funding for discretionary programs would decrease from $26 billion to $21 billion. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program and the Rural Energy for America Program are among the programs targeted for elimination.
More information on the proposed agency budgets is available at the DOE, EPA, and USDA websites.
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On May 10, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released Renewable Identification Numbers (RIN) generation data for April 2017, reporting that nearly 1.5 billion RINs were generated during the month.
Nearly 17.3 million D3 cellulosic biofuel RINs were generated in April, bringing the total for 2017 to 49.9 million, including 1.3 million D3 RINs generated for ethanol, 17.9 million generated for renewable liquefied natural gas, and 30.7 million generated for renewable compressed natural gas. Of the 49.9 million RINs, 44.7 million were generated by domestic producers, and 5.2 million were generated by importers.
More than 279.6 million D4 biomass-based diesel RINs were generated in April, resulting in a total of 973.3 million for 2017. The majority of RINs, 736.5 million, were generated for biodiesel, with 235.9 million for non-ester renewable diesel, and 937,219 for renewable jet fuel. Nearly 694.9 million RINs were generated by domestic producers, with 168.5 million generated by importers and nearly 109.9 million generated by foreign entities.
For D5 advanced biofuel, 7.0 million RINs were generated in April, which brought the total for 2017 to nearly 22.7 million. Naphtha accounted for the majority of RINs generated, 10.9 million, with 8.1 million generated for ethanol, 890,603 generated for heating oil, and 2.7 million generated for non-ester renewable diesel. In 2017, all D5 advanced biofuel RINs were generated by domestic producers.
Nearly 1.2 billion RINs were generated for D6 renewable fuel in April, resulting in a total of nearly 4.9 billion for 2017. The majority of RINs were generated for ethanol, nearly 4.8 billion, with nearly 84.8 million generated for non-ester renewable diesel. Nearly 4.8 billion RINs were generated by domestic producers, with 3.8 million generated by importers and nearly 84.8 million generated by foreign entities.
The data indicates that no D7 cellulosic RINs have been generated in 2017.
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On April 24, 2017, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys representing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the renewable fuels and petroleum industries presented oral arguments before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit regarding the petition to review the renewable volume obligations (RVO) for 2014-2016. The petition, which was filed on January 8, 2016, by seven biofuel and agricultural groups, challenged EPA’s authority to set volume requirements for biofuel blending below standards put forth in the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) law. During the oral arguments, Samara Spence, a DOJ attorney, argued that insufficient infrastructure prevented EPA from setting a higher advanced biofuel standard in the 2014-2016 final rule. Seth Waxman, an attorney representing Americans for Clean Energy, argued that EPA misunderstood its authority under the statute. According to statements from the federal appeals court judges, scaling back the blending requirements may be viewed as an abuse of EPA’s authority.
In a joint statement in response to the oral arguments, the American Coalition for Ethanol, BIO, Growth Energy, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Sorghum Producers, and the Renewable Fuels Association stated that they are “optimistic that the Court will honor Congress’ intent and remove these and other obstacles EPA has impermissibly erected to cleaner and more sustainable renewable fuels from entering the marketplace.” More information on the petition to review the RFS for 2014, 2015, and 2016 is available in the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®) blog post “Biofuel, Corn, And Sorghum Farmers Challenge Lowered RFS Volumes.”
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On April 24, 2017, Bob Dineen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt requesting that the 2018 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO) rulemaking remain on schedule and maintain the conventional renewable fuel requirement at the statutory level of 15 billion gallons. According to the letter, regulatory certainty and sufficient lead time for planning are required to allow regulated parties to adapt and comply with the RFS.
The letter states that ethanol producers are set to produce a record supply of 16 billion gallons of conventional renewable fuel in 2017, which is well above the 15-billion-gallon conventional renewable fuel RVO, and refiners and blenders have increased the inclusion of ethanol in U.S. gasoline. Additionally, data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) demonstrates that, on average, the ethanol content of gasoline consumed in the U.S. in 2016 was above the purported “blend wall.” Dinneen urged Pruitt to ensure a timely RVO rulemaking process to allow the evolution of the marketplace to continue.
By Richard E. Engler, Ph.D.
On April 5, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Industrial Microbes, Inc. (Industrial Microbes) has been awarded $300,000 in funding through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program to develop a green fermentation platform to replace carbon-emitting petrochemical production with newer methods that use methane and carbon dioxide to produce chemicals. The project aims to improve the efficiency of chemical manufacturing while limiting pollution using a fermentation process based on engineered enzyme pathways within living cells, similar to the chemical conversion process used to brew beer. Well-to-gate life cycle analysis of the process demonstrated that carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by six-fold compared to the current production process, due to carbon dioxide fixation and more efficient unit operations. Industrial Microbes is one of nine small businesses that received a total of nearly $2.7 million in funding through the SBIR Program to develop and commercialize new environmental technologies.
On March 21, 2017, the renewable fuel volume requirements for 2017, which were issued in final by EPA on December 12, 2016, were implemented. The effective date for the 2017 requirements was delayed following the Presidential directive to postpone the implementation of new regulations to allow for review by the new administration. Although EPA has yet to publish an announcement on the matter, industry stakeholders have welcomed the 2017 biofuel volumes and 2018 biomass-based diesel volumes. As reported in the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®) blog post “EPA Publishes Final 2017 RFS Requirements,” the volume requirements are:
||311 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel in 2017;
||4.28 billion gallons of advanced biofuel in 2017;
||19.28 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2017; and
||2.1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel in 2018.
On March 13, 2017, the South Dakota Farmers Union announced that the National Farmers Union had passed a resolution calling for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to open the market to higher blends of ethanol during its annual meeting in San Diego. The resolution, which was brought forward by the South Dakota Farmers Union delegation, promotes the use of higher blended fuels, such as E30, as a way to expand the retail fuels infrastructure and support the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
In addition to passing the resolution, the National Farmers Union filed legal comments regarding EPA’s overreach in its interpretation of the Clean Air Act (CAA), which limits ethanol content to 15 percent. Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union, called on EPA and all government regulators to reverse statements and policies that unfairly limit the amount of ethanol in fuel and stated that both the state and national organization continue to seek greater market access for higher blended fuels.