Sustainability Is Where You Find It
Dec21

Sustainability Is Where You Find It

At Pacifichem, the conference is set up so that you tend to want to just drift around and stick your head into one meeting room for a talk and them skip out to another session for a different talk. Doing that one afternoon, I came across a talk by Rogers E. Harry-O'kuru of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, in Peoria, Ill., who was speaking about novel synthetic products that could be made from milkweed. Milkweed, which literally is a weed in agricultural areas, can ideally be cultivated on unused farmland, Harry-O'kuru said. The plant produces a fibrous "seed floss," which equips the seeds for wind dispersal, that can be used as a hypoallergenic fill material for pillows and jackets, he noted. The seeds also contain a highly unsaturated oil that can be converted to polyoxiranes and polyhydroxy triglycerides to use as base materials in creams and lotions or as lubricants, he said. What struck me about Harry-O'kuru's lecture is the ingenuity of people to turn whatever they have at hand into useful products that potentially cost little and can help improve the environment. These talks have applications globally, especially in developing countries. I then noticed a handful of other talks strung together by the common theme of sustainability: Kyoung S. Ro of USDA's research center in Florence, S.C., gave an interesting talk on gasification of blended animal manures to produce synthesis gas and activated carbon. Pig and chicken poop mixed with sawdust and wood chips can be converted to syngas, which can be burned to generate electricity or further upgraded to dimethyl ether that can be used as a diesel fuel substitute. The whole process can be carried out in a transportable reactor, with the char left behind purified and used as activated carbon filter material in the reactor. Guillermo Toriz of the University of Guadalajara, in Mexico, gave a talk on the diversified uses of agave, the plant that is used to make tequila. The waxing and waning popularity of tequila has led to a severe overproduction of agave in Mexico, Toriz said, which has obliterated the price for farmers from about $2.00 per kilogram to about 5 cents per kilogram, making it uneconomical to harvest. Toriz described some new uses for agave that could help farmers: Enzymatic production of high-fructose-content agave syrups, using fructans (fiberlike polysaccharides) in agave as food additives and prebiotics that help promote growth of beneficial bacteria in the human gut, and using esterified fructans to make microspheres to encapsulate and deliver drugs to the colon. Janusz Kozinski of the University of Saskatchewan described the use of supercritical water as a medium for...

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Dressed Up With No Place To Go
Dec20

Dressed Up With No Place To Go

Here at Pacifichem, the Alternate Energy Technology topical area featured a number of sessions on improving coal technologies to curb carbon dioxide emissions and using biomass as a source of energy. I have attended quite a few conferences, workshops, and symposia during the past decade that focused on these topics. The message is always the same: We need to develop alternative technologies to generate electricity and transportation fuels as our supply of petroleum and other fossil fuels runs out, and it would be nice to curb carbon dioxide emissions to save the planet at the same time. Based on current trends in global energy consumption, even with significant incremental technology changes--that is, business as usual--atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will still more than double by 2100 and impact global temperatures. Exactly how the planet will react is uncertain, but the prospects aren't good. Scientists and engineers participating in these gatherings acknowledge that there is no one solution to this future-of-energy scenario, and of the emerging technologies such as solar, wind, electric vehicles, and more, none are yet concrete nor are they affordable.  The message is: We know what has to be done, we have a pretty good idea how to do it, but no one wants to pay for it.  It's getting to be a tiresome refrain. The U.S. budget provides more than $1 billion annually for energy research. More than $400 million of that is dedicated to coal, which is an indicator of the reality of energy consumption--the U.S. has lots of coal and natural gas, an estimated 250 years or more supply, and we are going to use it up first and set a regulatory policy in order to do it. Coal-rich countries such as China are in the same policy boat. It is not a bad policy, because coal is cheaper for now. It just means alternative energy technologies are not going to be adopted very quickly, and we are unlikely to do much about the cost of environmental control quickly, because no one wants to pay for it, hence the reason global agreements on carbon capture and sequestration to curb carbon dioxide emissions are languishing. We have to continue research in all areas to be able to move when the time comes, however. That is the essence of being sustainable. But that does nothing to satisfy the need for instant gratification that today's global society has come to expect--that one can have what they want when they want it from a blue electronic screen or by sliding a card. So it is with alternative energy technologies. It’s really an ideal that is dressed up with no place...

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The Aloha Shirt
Dec19

The Aloha Shirt

Common attire for men in Hawai'i is the "Hawaiian shirt," made from a floral print fabric typically bearing a Polynesian motif. I learned here at Pacifichem in Honolulu that the shirt is really called an "Aloha shirt." The word aloha means hello, goodbye, and just about any other warm fuzzy feeling you want. Women wear Aloha shirts too, as well as dresses of the same material. My source of this new knowledge was Glen, a greeter at the Hawai'i Convention Center who helps conferees find the meeting room they are looking for. You can see Glen sporting a nice Aloha shirt in this photo, and giving the "hang loose" sign, which exemplifies the happy-go-lucky attitude here in the islands. Glen says he doesn't know the history of the Aloha shirt. A quick Google search finds that the modern version originated in the 1930s when a Chinese merchant in Waikiki began sewing brightly colored shirts for tourists out of old kimono fabrics he had leftover in stock. American GIs made them popular during and after World War II. At any rate, Glen says it's common to wear an Aloha shirt with dress pants to work, out to dinner, and for just about anything. High-end tailored silk Aloha shirts can cost more than $100, he says. Low-cost versions made of rayon or other synthetic material can cost as little as $10. Basic cotton versions cost about $30. Plenty of people buy them at the ubiquitous ABC Stores, a Hawaiian convenience store chain. The stores sell food and drinks, chocolates, macadamia nuts, shirts, beachwear, and souvenirs. They are tucked in everywhere in Waikiki on street corners and in the middle of each block--I would say about 50 per square mile. Starbucks and Subway could learn something from them. At the convention center, a musician daily serenaded meeting attendees in the entrance atrium, and he wore an assortment of different Aloha shirts. In the photo shown, he has on an interesting white one. Also shown is the American Chemical Society’s Richard Love, sporting an Aloha shirt and demonstrating multitasking skills in carrying out his duties as ACS’s Pacifichem technical program chair. No, I didn't buy an Aloha shirt. It doesn't seem quite right to wear one this time of year on the mainland, which is getting dumped on with snow essentially coast to coast. Maybe if I lived in Hawai'i...

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Beaker’s Hawaiian Adventure
Dec19

Beaker’s Hawaiian Adventure

In a recent post on the Pacifichem conference taking place this week in Honolulu, I was giving a little history about  King Kamehameha, who was known for uniting all the islands of Hawai'i into one kingdom in the 1800s. Recall that there was a statue of Kamehameha commissioned from Italy, but in transit it was lost at sea. A replacement statue was ordered and it now stands in front of Iolani Palace in Honolulu, which currently houses the state supreme court. The orignial statue was later recovered and brought to Hawai'i. It ended up in a small town on the north coast of the big island of Hawai'i, near where Kamehameha was born. We posted a photo of the statue in front of Iolani Palace. Now, Newscripts is happy to report that we have a photo of the original statue that stands in front of the town hall in Kapa'au on the big island. The photo features the C&EN mascot, Beaker, who had an amazing Hawaiian vacation a couple of years ago. The photo was dredged out of the Newscripts photo vault and is shown here. Disregard the anonymous hand holding up Beak--he is short, and Kamehameha was very tall....

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Posters at Pacifichem
Dec19

Posters at Pacifichem

At the Pacifichem conference taking place this week in Honolulu, there are more posters than you can shake a palm frond at. Some 2,500 posters are being presented here in Kamehameha Hall at the convention center, and nearly 2,100 of them are by students lucky to have an advisor who was able to help them get here. There's a big student poster competition taking place, and C&EN will be reporting on the winners when they are formally announced on Sunday. I've seen students from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Germany, the U.K., France, Canada, Japan, China, the U.S., and many other countries--some 69 countries in all are represented at Pacifichem. I would say by far the most students are from Japan. Newscripts is stopping by the massive poster sessions to chat with some of the students from around the world. We'll be posting a few videos so Newscripts fans can meet a few of the students: Kyle Parker, who is in Professor Michael Fryzuk's group at the University of British Columbia Eva Siedler, who is in Professor Holger Braunschweig's group at the University of Wurzburg, in Germany. Elaine Crosbie, who is Professor Robert Mulvey's group at the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow, Scotland. Rong Shang, who is in professor Anthony Hill's group at Australian National University. Atsushi Kobayashi, who is in Professor Kazunori Kataoko’s group at the University of Tokyo. Maria Antoniou, who works with Dionysios Dionysiou at the University of Cincinnati .   Katsuhiko Takeuchi, who is in Professor Akira Sekiguchi's group at the Univeristy of Tsukuba, in...

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