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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.


 

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

Researchers at Swansea University’s Energy Safety Research Institute have developed a new method that produces spheres that have strong capacity for carbon capture and work at a large scale. Described as “[a] fast, green and one-step method for producing porous carbon spheres, which are a vital component for carbon capture technology and for new ways of storing renewable energy,” the method was developed by a research team that adapted an existing method known as chemical vapor deposition (CVD). This adapted method involves the use of heat to apply a coating to a material using pyromellitic acid as both carbon and oxygen source. Research scientists involved in the development of this new method report that the new approach brings certain advantages over existing methods of producing carbon spheres, including:

  • It is alkali-free;
  • It does not need a catalyst to trigger the shaping of the spheres;
  • It uses cheap and safe feedstock that is readily available on the market;
  • There is no need for solvents to purify the material; and
  • It is a rapid and safe procedure.

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

In early September, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs Office announced that from December 14 to 17, 2020, the Brookhaven National Laboratory will host a virtual workshop for industry researchers to showcase the capabilities and expertise available at DOE’s Office of Science User Facilities. Designed to benefit researchers who have either previously used the Brookhaven facilities and researchers with an interest in learning about accessing the Brookhaven facilities, the workshop program will focus on researchers working in all major industry sectors. Some of these industry sectors include petrochemicals, energy storage, advanced materials, pharmaceuticals, microelectronics, and advanced manufacturing, and DOE believes that companies will benefit from learning how Brookhaven facilities can impact their research and development (R&D) mission.

The workshop will be formatted so that attendees can spend time remotely observing the labs and Brookhaven’s capabilities in action, while engaging in technical discussions with the lab experts. As a virtual “facilities open house,” the workshop will also allow attendees to measure remotely their own samples and collect data. In addition, presentations from industry users of Brookhaven facilities, question and answer sessions, and opportunities to engage directly with DOE program managers will be featured. The workshop is open to the public, and interested parties may register here.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

DOE has announced that the Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee (BERAC) will host digital public meetings on October 22 and 23, 2020, from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. (EDT). BERAC provides advice to DOE’s Director of the Office of Science on scientific and technical issues that arise in the development and implementation of the Biological and Environmental Research Program. Tentative agenda topics published in the Federal Register notice include:

  • BERAC business and discussion;
  • News from the Office of Biological and Environmental Research;
  • Report briefs; and
  • News from the Biological Systems Science and Earth and Environmental Systems Science Divisions.

Oral comments will be permitted during the meetings, and written statements can be submitted prior to or after the meetings. Those interested in making oral statements regarding any agenda items must request so via e-mail at least five business days prior to the meeting.


 
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