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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.


 

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

On August 17, 2020, DOE’s Reducing EMbodied-Energy and Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Manufacturing Institute announced the availability of approximately $35 million in support of research and development (R&D) that will enable U.S. manufacturers to increase the recovery, recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing of plastics, metals, electronic waste, and fibers. This funding opportunity announcement (FOA) is part of DOE’s Plastics Innovation Challenge, a comprehensive program to accelerate innovations in energy-efficient plastics recycling technologies by supporting high-impact R&D for plastics.

DOE issued a request for proposal (RFP) under this FOA for projects in two areas: transformational R&D and traditional R&D. The full RFP can be accessed here. Letters of intent and project abstracts are due September 14, 2020.

The Deputy Secretary of Energy, Mark W. Menezes, commented on the FOA, stating: “The Trump Administration is committed to advancing innovative reuse and remanufacturing technologies, including advanced plastic recycling technologies, and the development of new plastics that are recyclable by design. Through the Plastics Innovation Challenge, and in partnership with REMADE, DOE is proud to take part in the development of new technologies that strengthen the U.S. manufacturing ecosystem.”


 

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

The University of Minnesota Extension (UME) recently published a report titled “Economic Contribution of the Biobased Industrial Products Industry in Minnesota: 2019.” The report accounts for the economic impacts from the Minnesota Bioincentive Program enacted in 2015. Some of the key findings outlined by UME include but are not limited to the ones outlined below:

  • In 2019, companies claiming the Minnesota Bioincentive received $1.5 million in incentives. For every tax dollar invested in incentives, $407.10 is generated in the economy. In addition, for every dollar of incentive, approximately $8.90 is collected in taxes.
  • Construction activities of Minnesota biobased industrial product companies generated an estimated $1.2 billion of economic activity in the state, including $540.6 million in labor income. These activities also supported employment for more than 8,000 workers and generated approximately $46.5 million in tax collections.
  • Operations of Minnesota’s biobased industrial product companies generated an estimated $610.7 million of economic activity resulting from their operations, including $127 million in labor income. It also supported employment for more than 2,000 workers in the state and generated an estimated $13.3 million in tax collections.

According to the report, these impacts are annual and will continue to grow as long as companies do. A full copy of the report is available here.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson 

On July 14, 2020, DOE EERE announced that it will fund approximately $53 million to 49 new SBIR and STTR R&D projects. The selected projects will receive Phase II Release 2 grants for principal R&D efforts based on the technical feasibility demonstrated in Phase I projects. Phase II awards range up to $1,500,000 for two years. Further information about the awardees can be found here.


 
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