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The 2017 International Symposium on Green Chemistry (ISGC-2017) took place in May in La Rochelle, France. Following the trend of previous years, about 700 attendees gathered to discuss the most recent advancements on sustainable science across a variety of topics, including catalytic systems, biomass conversion, environmental impact, and biotechnology.
Prof. Roger Sheldon kick-started the four-day event with a plenary lecture that perfectly summarized the purpose of ISGC 2017. His talk, “Engineering a Sustainable Future with Green Chemistry and Catalysis”, exposed the need of shifting from a culture of fossil fuels to one that embraces renewable biomass. He elaborated on the use of green metrics, such as the E-factor and atom economy, for the evaluation and improvement of industrial processes.
The NESSE team was present at ISGC-2017 to spread the word about our mission and recent efforts to connect scientists with a passion for sustainability. During the conference, we had the chance to talk to early-career professionals in our exhibition stand about the resources and opportunities that NESSE has to offer.
Among NESSE’s activities at ISGC, we carried out a satellite session on career development. “Thriving careers and sustainability” was a panel discussion that brought together three guest speakers to converse about their vision about new professionals seeking to apply their knowledge in sustainable science into an academic or industrial career path. Dr. Edith Lecomte-Norrant discussed the opportunities for emerging scientists in the pharmaceutical industry through outreach programs that allow for a close collaboration between PhD students and the innovation department she leads. She emphasized the need to constantly innovate oneself in a market where companies constantly change and require new skill sets. Prof. Peter Wasserscheid shared his insight on the peer-review and grant writing processes for academic professionals, and how academia overlaps with entrepreneurial activities. On the topic of the value of a postdoctoral research, Prof. Luque shared his views on how this experience brought him closer to green chemistry, and how working abroad helps both by expanding the scope of your research and by improving your transferable skills along the way.
As part of the program, the International Consortium on Eco-conception and renewable resources (INCREASE) brought together a special session on the commitment of industry to sustainable chemistry. Representatives of several European industries discussed current efforts involving green innovation and answered questions from the audience. A particular point was made about industry not only having and active role within their own processes, but also the responsibility of carrying this objective throughout the supply chain.
As usual, we had the opportunity to socialize throughout the week during the exhibition, at our NESSE social, and at the gala dinner held as part of the event. The historic town center of La Rochelle overlooking the ocean offered the perfect venue for us to meet new people and expand our knowledge on the latest advancements on green chemistry. We look forward to coming back to la Rochelle for ISGC-2019!
Congratulations to our new Board members who were elected by NESSE members. They will formally start their roles on the 1st September joining four continuing Board members – Alex, Natalie, Luciana, Tabitha.
Editor’s Note: Prof. Dr. Felix Ekardt is a interdisciplinary sustainable scientist in scientific fields legal studies, philosophy and sociology. He manages the Research Unit Sustainability and Climate Policy in Leipzig and Berlin, Germany, and gives statutory advices on EU, national and state level. Prof. Ekardt presents around 60-70 scientific and popular lectures nationally and internationally and is currently working on projects based around a wide range of topics including social energy, sustainable corporate law, human rights and environmental law, municipal climate protection and development of national climate protection legislation. We are delighted that he took the time to speak to us!
1) How do you understand the term ‘sustainability’?
Sustainability means a way of life that can be maintained on an intertemporal and global scale. This is a completely new challenge in human history since we have a traditional tendency of focussing on what is going on here and now. The typical example of a sustainability issue is the energy and climate transition.
2) For a sustainable transformation, we need law changes and a different legislative framework for the markets. We are not allowed to make use of all the oil, gas and coal that exists, if we want to prevent a climate change. The German energy transition (Energiewende), which is actually a power transition (Stromwende), is necessary for a sustainable development. Can the German approach be a role model for other countries?
In December 2015, states across the world have agreed on a new climate agreement. The Paris climate agreement lacks ambition in most of its details and as such is disappointing. At the same time, it contains a very ambitious target which is unfortunately frequently overlooked. It determines that global warming needs to be limited to well below(!) 2 degrees Celsius, and even undertake efforts to limit it 1.5 degrees Celsius. For an industrialized country such as Germany with high per capita emissions, but on the bottom-line for every country, this requires zero greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuels in power, heating, fuels and material use by around the year 2038. This is to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius according to the data of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Taking the limit to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the global phase out of greenhouse gas emissions would need to be reached by the end of the 2020s. This applies if assuming that technologies to achieve negative emissions are not technically feasible or extremely dangerous. The climate debate in Europe and the world largely neglect that.
Taking the described temperature limit as point of reference, key governance deficiencies in the factual energy transition become apparent. The energy transition, as currently implemented (almost anywhere), is basically a power transition. Heating, transport and material use of fossil fuels e.g. fertilizer (and areas of climate emissions beyond fossil fuels which mostly occur in the agricultural sector) are neglected. Policy measures taken so far in Europe and elsewhere are not in the least enough to induce a speedy and complete phase out of fossil fuels – even in the power sector and especially not in other mentioned sectors. Not only other sources of emissions, but also other environmental problems tend to lose attention. Considering per capita emissions, industrialized states are very far away from zero emissions. In the EU, the statistically achieved emissions reductions – from very high levels – since 1990 are surpassed by emissions simply shifted abroad. This becomes apparent if summing up imports and exports. Because the emission-intensive production sites of modern global economy are increasingly relocated to emerging economies.
It is however ambiguous, whether environmental protection will be successful if purely based on technical solutions. Taking into account the speed of innovation so far, it seems not very probable that a transformation to increased renewable energies and energy efficiency will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero in 10 or 20 years. Sufficiency is also needed.
3) You describe a double vicious circle, on the one hand between citizens and politicians, on the other hand between customers and companies, that has to be interrupted. Our economic system is based on self-interest, egoism and competition, the greed for more material wealth is not limited. In my opinion, this is a serious problem for sustainable development. Shouldn’t we try to increase awareness and mindfulness, to succeed with a social transformation based on cooperation, altruism and sufficiency? As a human being with freedom of will, we have the gift of controlling our emotions and behaviour. I think we also have the responsibility to make use of that. Do you agree?
Based on pluralistic methodological approaches, one can show that non-sustainable and non-sufficient behaviour has various sources in different actors and that it should therefore be avoided to focus relevant aspects of behavioural science only. Pure knowledge of facts has proven to be only a small part in triggering behaviour. More important is an understanding of how actors are interdependent. The behaviour of citizens for example is influenced by politicians and vice versa, the same goes for the dependency between enterprises and consumers. It is part of a certain economic system to constantly acquire customers that buy more and new products without caring about the means of production and that are inclined to find products which are produced socially and ecologically exemplary too expensive. But it also requires enterprises which offer – or in fact do not offer – customers products to trigger needs and thus constantly increasing their profits, ergo keeping up the spiral of growth and high resource intensity. It would be misleading however to simply talk in Marxian tradition of exploitation and estrangement, particularly since many liberties have been installed in modern societies at the same time. As suggestive as many offers might be, production and consumption are not forced by just one side and many individual suppliers and demanders make their contributions. The role of factors – determined by all above mentioned methods – such as self-interest, the dilemma of public goods, path dependencies and conceptions of normality as aspects of motivation in this interaction, especially looking from an economic point of view has been described by many. Two aspects crucial to comprehensively explaining the reluctance to act on sufficiency are however frequently neglected.
One of which are common conceptions of normality as shown by many. Despite all intellectual recognition, we continue living in a high-emission world. If setting aside this article, the next meat buffet, the next car drive to work or the next holiday flight is not far. These things are just ordinary nowadays, as long as one can afford them financially. Dismissing flights as a whole might lead to social pressure and an image as “weirdo”. Lifestyle is also relevant to social standing if. in a current situation. the social surrounding requires a certain apartment, cars and travels in order to belong. This is increasingly true for countries outside the Western hemisphere, which follow the role models in industrialized countries. Especially decision-makers in politics and enterprises are often used to entertaining a lifestyle that includes frequent flights, opulent buffets, global friendships, regular meat consumption, and now they are required to think of abolishing it (with foreseeable results). Conceptions of normality vary significantly at the moment, however the fact that they develop them (unconsciously) in order to simplify ordinary activities seems to be a biological invariable.
Human emotions are likewise relevant for all of us, including entrepreneurs, politicians, civil servants etc. Geographically and temporally distant, invisible, in highly complex causalities which make it hard to imagine damages due to climate change yet caused by an ordinary activity are usually not emotionally accessible to people (citizens, politicians, entrepreneurs).
All aspects are to be encountered both in the individual and in structures – there of course in humane – forms. “Self-interest”, “conceptions of normality” or “emotions” are not only visible in individuals but are also shaping higher structures; so in the end, retention of power or accumulation of capital are collectivized variations of self-interest and path dependencies.
Non-sustainable behaviour is therefore easy to explain. At the same time, these findings hint at the fact that a fundamental turn towards sustainability and specifically sufficiency might be very hard to achieve, as there is reason to assume that emotions are part of a core biological configuration which cannot be eliminated. It will however be essential that different actors will move at once – and that aspects which can be changed are in fact changed, e.g. self-interest calculations or path dependencies, which can be influenced through new political frameworks such as levies or caps on fossil fuels. Pricing will also support a change in conceptions of normality. However, it will hardly be possible to achieve change exclusively through political measures, because of the interdependencies of actors; it is of particular importance to have someone demanding new policies. The central piece however is not just discourse, but practicing new and more sustainable normalities.
4) What has to be done to perform energy transition successfully?
Approaches to environmental protection so far usually aim at regulating individual products, plants or actions. To do so, mostly commands or prohibitions are formulated, e.g. standards for emission limits for cars, houses or products. The problem here is firstly that the measures taken are not even close to being fit to comply with key political targets like the 1.5-to-1.8-degree temperature limit of the Paris Agreement, stop biodiversity loss, stop of degradation of ecosystems and soil, stabilizing of nitrogen cycles etc. This implies the mentioned speedy and complete phase out of fossil fuel use and decreasing land use. Secondly, the focus on single products, plants or actions contains the inevitable disadvantage that it will lead to unplanned shifting effects. Environmental problems are shifted into other countries and possibly to other sectors. Well-insulated houses in the EU might reduce the heating bill, enabling in turn even more climate-harmful holiday flights. If the use of crude-oil containing mineral fertilizers is reduced in the EU, it might either induce even more intensive agriculture elsewhere (to produce products which are then imported into the EU). Or an increased use of green genetically modified organisms (GMO) which are not compatible with small-scale farming as a solution to various environmental problems. Thirdly, with regards to ecological strains or resource problems, the individual car or one round of fertilizer is not the core of the problem. It is rather the cumulation of many of those processes. Nothing is solved if an individual car becomes more efficient, but then more higher-performing cars are on the road, also due to an increasing wealth (rebound effect).
Therefore, in looking for more effective policy instruments, a key starting point should be the core factor of several environmental problems, with are fossil fuels. They are, especially through fertilizer, key driver of modern agriculture, and address as such not only climate change but also biodiversity as well as disturbed nitrogen cycles. The target according to the Paris Agreement is therefore the total phase out of fossil fuels of the markets in all sectors (also in transportation, heating, agriculture) gradually in 10 or 20 years. If done with a global or at least a European cap (absolute quantity control), this would lead to far-reaching consequences. This system would not in the least resemble the existing EU ETS, because it would achieve a strict cap (including the elimination of old certificates) as well as a complete inclusion of fossil fuels. Justification of this approach is primarily its ecological effectiveness and not its possible cost-efficiency (while there is a good chance it might also be achieved).
Renewable energies, energy efficiency and sufficiency would replace fossil fuels for power, heating and transportation. The amounts of fossil fuels on the market would simply decrease until they will finally not be available on the market anymore in 10 to 20 years. The increasing scarcity will lead to dramatically increasing prices. The materially and geographically broach approach is crucial for the effectiveness of the instrument – especially to avoid rebound and shifting effects. Conventional agriculture would gradually see a transition to ecological agriculture. Also, the production of animal products would become less attractive overall; production of animal products would increasingly shift towards low-emission pastoral farming. Consequently, also less production quantities and decreasing disposal rates.
It is crucial to tax imported goods with the additional costs of energy and land-use pricing as eco tax; exported goods should be exempt at least partially from the additional costs. Those so called border adjustments will prevent that production, for instance steel industry or production of animal feed, is moved outside the system.
5) We need new role models for a paradigm shift. Matthieu Ricard said in an interview with Barbara Bleisch that the messenger has to be the message, when he/she wants to be convincing. So do you live sustainably?
Role models really matter a lot. I do not have a driving license, I am a vegetarian since 1993, I do not go on holidays by plane, even on a professional basis usually I do not go by plane. I used to live in a very small flat until the age of 40, I do not have a cell phone etc. pp. But we all, including me, have to improve our sustainability performance.
Editor’s Note: Here’s NESSE’s Co-Executive Director, Natalie O’Neil to share with us her NESSE story. With upcoming elections she wants to be clear that passion and a desire to make a change in the system is all you need to be a NESSE member and effective board member.
I became a science major to “change the world”—as Bill Nye once said. I am now an Inorganic Chemistry Ph.D. candidate at the University at Albany. However, it wasn’t until 2015, far into my graduate studies, that I realized (naive of me, I know) that something was missing from my science education and research experience. I had come to the realization that the methods of my research were inherently not environmentally friendly (as is consistently the case) and that I had no knowledge on how to change that (which most students don’t as toxicology and environmental chemistry are not currently required for a chemistry degree by most universities). I realized that I had no idea of the environmental impacts my research could be making and to me not knowing seemed unacceptable. I have always been an environmentally-conscious person; however, it did not strike me that I wasn’t including this aspect into my research or future career plans. Struggling with the amounts of harmful chemicals my research consumed – and the inevitable waste it produced – I set out to find a connection between chemistry and sustainability.
I began researching sustainable science and discovered green chemistry through Beyond Benign, who recommended I check out the Network of Early-Career Sustainable Scientists & Engineers (NESSE). Wanting to engage more I applied for NESSE’s mentorship program. I learned that anyone can become a green chemist. That green chemistry isn’t a new field, it is chemistry done with the forethought of sustainability (considering social, economic and environmental impacts). My mentor, Cliff Coss, recommended I read Green Chemistry Theory and Practice by Paul T. Anastas and John Warner. I have never read a book in one sitting or had a book speak to me so much, and wondered why all chemists were not working within this book’s mindframe.
“It is no more excusable for a fireman not to know that a fire burns, or a chef not to know a knife cuts, than for a chemists not to know the character of the tools of their trade.” – John Warner & Paul Anastas
After reading about the 12 principles of green chemistry developed by Anastas and Warner I made an effort to make changes in my research practices—as well as the practices of my other peers. The Office of Environmental Sustainability at the University at Albany, had an Innovation Grant program that allowed me to attend a Green Chemistry Symposium at the University of Toronto (UofT), organized by the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI), a NESSE sustainable science group. At UofT I learned a lot about green chemistry and how it is used in industry. I walked away inspired by the work of the graduate students of the GCI and was determined to follow suit in some way!
Photo from the GCI 2016 Symposium Innovations in Chemistry Towards Sustainable Urban Living.
The NESSE elections opened that June (2015) and I ran for the Director of Marketing and Communications role. At the time I didn’t have experience in social media, tweeting to me was sound a bird made and WordPress (huh?) I had never used. But I was committed to sharing the great information and resources that NESSE had to offer me with as many early career scientists and engineers. I met the board of directors in Rhode Island for a three day strategic planning retreat and the optimism of the directors fueled my drive even more. With the help of the director that was stepping down, I learned my role and where there is a will there is a way!
Photos from NESSE’s first strategic planning retreat in 2015.Left- Plans for the year written on the widow with a view, many of these plans materialized or are now in action! Right-The current (Jennie, Norman and I) and now past (Laura and Anna) directors who attended the planning retreat!
Two years later and a ton of experience under my belt, I stand as the co-executive director of an organization that has given me so many experiences and exposed me to opportunities I would have never had without getting involved in NESSE. Just a few examples are the ACS Green Chemistry Summer School in 2016, traveling to Paris to be a part of the Future Earth working group of the Early Career Researchers Network of Networks (ECR NoN) and London for the Science for Sustainable Development: Early Career Leaders Day in Fall 2017. At all of these events I met amazing early career scientists and learned that our generation is really setting a new path for the future.
Photos from all events mentioned above! Top left- ACS summer school class. Top right- Future Earth working group of the ECR NoN. Middle left-photos of the fun had at the ACS summer school! Middle right-Getting to meet the directors in London! Bottom row- photos from the Early Career Leaders Day at the Burlington house in London.
The knowledge I have gained from working with the board is invaluable, ranging from science communication (blog posts, social media crowdfunding campaign) to organizational structure (international organization procedures, 501 c3 status) and much more. NESSE is truly an organization run for its members by its members and is always open to finding, running and promoting any sort of initiative its members want to help undertake. This grassroots friendly approach is what I love about NESSE.
I share my NESSE story in the hopes that you, the reader, will see that no experience is needed when it comes to adding sustainability to whatever field you are in. What it takes is the passion to make a difference, in your career, in your field and finding the resources you need, which are out there (you are not alone, trust me) it just might take some digging! NESSE’s aim is to be the facilitator of this process, it was for me and it can be for you! If we as early career individuals ban together across all fields (social, physical and life science) than we can tackle the global environmental and energy challenges facing us. We need a multifaceted approach for the myriad of challenges which means we need all backgrounds to come to the table to find viable solutions for a sustainable future for all.
I urge you to engage with the network, consider a volunteer opportunity or even run for one of our open director positions for the upcoming 2017 election you never know where it might take you or what doors it will open that you never knew were possible! If you have questions about getting involved with NESSE or about one of the director positions please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: Prof. Rafael Luque leads the Nanoscale Chemistry and Biomass/Waste Valorisation Group at the University of Cordoba, Spain. He is also member of the editorial board of prestigious journals, Editor-in-Chief of the Porous section of the journal Materials, Editor of Journal of Molecular Catalysis A: Chemical, and Series Editor of Topics in Current Chemistry (Springer). Prof. Luque will be a keynote speaker at the International Symposium on Green Chemistry 2017 next month in La Rochelle, with a talk titled Benign-by-design methodologies for a more sustainable future: from nanomaterials to heterogeneous (photo)catalysis and biomass/waste valorization. In addition, he will join NESSE on May 18th for a special session at ISGC 2017: “Thriving Careers and Sustainability: A Panel Discussion”. For more information, please visit www.isgc-symposium.com/program-overview/.
When did you know you wanted to dedicate yourself to chemistry?
I was always impressed by the fact that chemistry is ubiquitously present in our daily life. It is in everything we do and see, and from my perspective as an organic chemist, I would say it is even part of ourselves. I was very curious when I was a kid about common everyday observations that I related to chemistry. When I started my PhD studies I also became very interested in green chemistry, in the sense of trying to work on advances towards a more sustainable society and ways of living.
What is your current research focused on?
Throughout the years, we have been able to branch out the scope of our research. Nowadays we are focused on three different platform technologies.
- Nanoscale chemistry – We design our own nanomaterials, supported metal nanoparticles, and quantum dots for different applications.
- Application of nanomaterials – This work is done mostly in the area of heterogeneous catalysis and photocatalysis, and more recently we are developing photoluminescent materials. We are also working at the interface of chemistry and biology by developing bioinspired functional materials for biologically-related applications.
- Flow chemistry – We work on continuous flow processes that are scalable for chemical industry. In addition, we also work on biomass and waste valorisation. Here we utilize bio refinery concepts in order to further evaluate the possibility to convert residual feedstocks into chemicals, materials, and fuels.
What would you say your first approach to green chemistry was?
Originally I was not quite aware of it. When the concept started in the 90s I was a high school student. My first major connection with it was during my Postdoc with Prof. James Clark at the University of York. Working at the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence gave me the opportunity to understand what this concept can provide to society, industry, and research in general. I was fascinated by the possibilities that we have improve the future for upcoming generations by reducing our environmental footprint.
As a professional in academia, how do feel education has changed around the concept of green chemistry? What do you believe are the possibilities in this field?
I think education is very important for the formation of future generations. For green chemistry in particular, education is a tool to help new generations understand the possibilities we have to improve our way of behaving, working, and living. I would say that green chemistry is not limited to the scope of chemical education, the core values of it reach out to a more general audience. I think this is a critical aspect that needs to be taken into account to provide social awareness of what the beneficial effects of green chemistry are on the environment with concrete examples, such as how we can replace current products derived from petroleum by more sustainable products.
With regards to formal education, the curricula have changed, although this might be at a rather slower pace. All over different countries you see courses that either incorporate the 12 principles of green chemistry, or tackle more specific topics, such as sustainability in processes for fine chemical production, catalyst synthesis, polymer production, etc. The possibilities are endless, and we could spend a long time speaking about them. Using waste as a resource for many potential products that we can extract and harvest, design of new materials, catalysts, continuous flow processes… All of these are areas of opportunity both for green chemistry and chemical education.
You have managed to develop start-up companies in addition to your work at the University of Cordoba. How did your introduction into entrepreneurship occur?
At some stage the research and the topics you focus on can somehow steer you in different direction. In our case the key factor that motivated the creation of our start-ups was the fact that, in addition to working on fundamental research, we also conduct applied research. We managed to succeed in reaching the market in terms of prototypes and products that we proposed, in order to provide alternatives for the chemical industry of the future. This eventually led to the development spin-off companies from our work, so far three of them. One of them started out as a collaboration with the University of York in the UK, and two other companies in Spain. We are currently working on creating a new one in China. The possibilities in this case are always related to the broadness and the applicability of our research. In this case, we had significant expertise on the field, and this led to incurring in an entrepreneurial path.
We often hear about professional accomplishments, but often we overlook the struggles that they represented. What would you say are some of the challenges you have faced throughout your career?
I have had several challenges in my career. I come from a traditionally deprived region in the south of Spain. Starting my research group from scratch back in 2009 was complicated in terms of funding, access to resources, students, etc. It required a lot of dedication, especially in the middle of a big recession, which may have been a different situation had I been in a different place.
From a personal perspective, I come from a modest family. During my studies, I had to put a great effort to try be the best in my class in order to qualify for fellowships to pay for my studies and then for my PhD. My advice to young scientists is to always bring motivation and passion in whatever you do. Particularly, resilience is a quality that I feel missing in some students these days. It is not easy to receive a lot of funding at the beginning of your career, regardless of how great you/your ideas are. In the past I would submit twenty proposals to get one, but I never lost hope, never lost my passion and my will to keep pushing that will bring you to eventual success. It is a learning curve that requires time, but a self-driven character and resilience are very helpful along the way. Fighting and being able to come back stronger after a rejected paper/proposal/application is the way forward!!
Multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary research are increasingly seen as vital in a world of complex, interconnected global challenges. Funders are beginning to support early-career researchers to conduct this work through doctoral training centres and projects with a focus on research at the intersections between disciplines.
Yet, these types of research have been called “career suicide” for young academics and a British Academy report suggested that early-career researchers should first “cultivate their academic home” as a base to conduct interdisciplinary research.
We want to understand early-career researchers own experiences and perspectives of MIT-disciplinary (multi-, inter-, or trans-disciplinary*) research as part of a larger study into the culture of science. Please help us by completing this 15 minute survey.
The survey asks you about:
- Your past and current experiences of MIT-disciplinary research;
- The motivations, challenges and rewards that you associate with MIT-disciplinary research;
- The level of support or hindrance that you receive in any MIT-disciplinary research that you undertake
- Your suggestions as to how support for future MIT-disciplinary research should be approached, particularly in relation to early-career researchers.
Please share widely! Post on twitter or facebook: Early-career researchers – whats your experience of #interdisciplinary research? http://bit.ly/2qZrY1C #ECRchat #PhDchat @greenscientists
*For the purposes of this survey, we define multidisciplinary as people from different disciplines working together; interdisciplinary as integrating knowledge and methods from different disciplines at the outset of a project; and transdisciplinary as involving researchers from different disciplines and other stakeholders variously in the design, execution and implementation of research.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Edith Lecomte-Norrant is the current Head of Innovation/Technology/Sciences at UCB Biopharma in Belgium, where she works introducing new methods for industrialization of pharmaceutical processes. She holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from ENSIC-CNRS, HDR in Chemical Engineering, worked six years as a National Researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France. Her work includes the submission of 9 patents, 14 articles, more than 200 technical confidential reports, and presenting more than 35 oral communications at different international conferences. She has worked in several private companies and has international experience in R&D and fine chemistry/pharmaceutical manufacturing plants. Dr. Lecomte-Norrant will be a keynote speaker at the 2017 International Symposium on Green Chemistry (ISGC) in La Rochelle, France. In addition, she will join NESSE on May 18th for a special session at ISGC 2017: “Thriving Careers and Sustainability: A Discussion Panel”. For more information, please visit www.isgc-symposium.com/program-overview/.
What motivated you to pursue a career in science?
Firstly, when I was young, I loved mathematics. It was for me a challenge to solve those problems, to the extent it became a game for me. Secondly, I was and I am still very curious about everything. I like to learn, to discover new scientific areas, to understand how everything works… but I always have the feeling that I do not know anything. This is the reason why, after my engineer studies, I decided to do a PhD to get a higher level of knowledge and to develop my capacities to learn, to develop my creativity. I like challenges!
During my PhD, under the responsibility of Prof. Le Goff (ENSIC – Nancy), who was a person with a lot of ideas and with a passion for science, I really discovered what research was, and I liked it because it is always challenges to solve and to find concrete solutions. During this period, I discovered my creativity to solve technical problems by mixing ideas from different areas. It is the reason why I decided to do research and I applied to work at CNRS (the French Centre National of Scientific Research).
At CNRS I discovered something else: ideas are important, but we need a budget to develop them. Therefore, I decided to move to a new research unit, which had been created to improve the relationship between private and public research. This Mixed Research Unit consisted of 50% public researchers and 50% private researchers coming from Rhone Poulenc (Ex SANOFI). For me it was a fantastic period because I worked with experts in other areas without any budget issues. The target was to develop new methodology, new tools to develop gas/liquid/solid reactions at an industrial scale. I realized that, by working in a multidisciplinary team with different public and private experts, we could do fantastic research in a quick timeframe.
I also discovered that the research in a private company was focused on applications. For me, working on the bridge between fundamental research and the application was a new challenge. Thus I decided to go and work in private company to apply new fundamental concepts and to be more pragmatic. Also, in a private company we have more opportunity to work in different areas, and to learn more in different subjects. In comparison, on public research you generally become an expert in one topic and stay in that area.
Can you tell us about your current role as Innovation/Technology/Sciences Director at UCB Biopharma?
My current role as Innovation/Technology/Sciences Director aims to introduce new methodology and technology to develop and industrialize new chemical and biological drugs. My idea is to develop a tool box to help researcher’s day to day.
I work with six Research & Development Departments, respectively API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient), DP (Drug Product), Analytical Department for both Small and Large Molecules, and with Universities (or start-ups) to help us develop our ideas concerning new technologies and to integrate them in our research department, then in a pilot plant and a manufacturing plant.
When we have a new idea, we take a Master’s student for 6 months to evaluate it and to get the answer for this following question: “Is it the right idea or the wrong one?” Depending on the answer, we either stop it or move on with a PhD student to develop it with the University that has the right expertise. The PhD student can work both at University and at UCB. It depends on the subject and where the best place to do research is (due to equipment, analytical tools, etc.).
Innovation means to create a new technology for UCB that does not exist anywhere else but also to introduce a new technology at UCB which is used by other companies but that UCB has not gotten yet. This latter innovation is at minimum risk. Most of the actions are confidential.
You have impressive record working on industrial management positions. What are some of the challenges you have faced in this aspect of your career?
The greatest challenge I got was between Aug. 1993 and Aug. 1994. When I started at Rhone Poulenc in January of 1993, I was in charge of the continuous process improvement of four manufacturing plants: two in France, one in the UK and one in the US. Unfortunately, in August 1993, an explosion occurred at the US plant: some people died and some were drastically injured. I was named project manager to find the underlying reasons of the explosion and to design a new safe process in three months. I remember I was told: “you have unlimited resources, open budget, but make sure there are no incidents”. I created a team of 40 people in one week, which comprised experts in chemistry, chemical engineering, analytical, safety, corrosion, etc.
It was a big and stressful challenge because we did not know the reasons of the explosion. Furthermore, to increase the complexity, Rhone Poulenc bought this manufacturing plant one year before and we had no access to the data concerning the development of the process for this intermediate compound. We had to develop everything in a safe way in three months: main reaction, by-product reactions, analytical methods to follow the reactions, kinetic of reactions, stability of compounds, etc., in order to understand the reasons of the explosion.
I remember we did the first reactions in a “special bunker”, a special safety lab in order to define safe operating conditions. In three months, due to the impressive work of the team, we had understood the reasons of the explosion and we had designed a new safe reactor with a controlled system to detect the presence of the dangerous by-product. It was my first experience in PAT (Process Analytical Technology). When I went to the US in December 1993 to present the data and the design of the new unit, they asked me to take charge of starting the future unit and to negotiate with OSHA the authorization to restart the previous one.
It was a new big challenge that I accepted. It was an important human experience to work with operators who had lived the accident. In fact, even if you know that safety is first, you are not totally aware about all the impacts and consequences an explosion has on people. The biggest challenge I had was to convince operators that we had understood all the reasons of the explosion and we had put in place all the necessary controls to work in a safe way. It was a problem of trust and it took time to regain it from them.
We restarted it August 1994 without any problems. Since then I kept a nice relationship with the operators during my stay in the US. I think that it was the biggest challenge I had in my career. It was an important human experience for me. Keep in mind that science is important but safety is more important.
From your perspective, how has the incorporation of green chemistry in industrial R&D evolved in recent years?
In my own opinion, I observed that in most of cases Green Chemistry in the industrial world has been introduced mainly:
- By new laws in environment which induces important cost for treatment of wastes.
- By information about the consequences of the pollution on health.
For both these reasons, private companies had to adapt their processes with innovative solutions to reduce the cost of treatment of waste which becomes more and more important. Now Green chemistry is included in their policy: it is a label for potential customers. It is the reason why the R&D department takes into account this point to find innovative solutions for the development of green processes.
However, the problems and solutions are quite different for large chemical process and fine chemistry/pharmaceutical process. Large chemical productions are often manufactured by using a continuous process: by recycling solvents, catalysts, etc. Generally, they measure the carbon footprint of each step. Thus, it is a point that is evaluated and they are looking for an innovative process in a safer way by reducing their waste, which induces a reduction of operating expenses.
Concerning fine chemistry and pharmaceutical companies, they have the habit to use batch processes. Up until now, they were very conservative due to regulatory affairs. Today this industry moves slowly by adopting innovative technologies such as micro/milli-reactors (process intensification), coupled with physical activation (photo chemistry, microwaves, electrochemistry, etc.), which generally induces a huge reduction of wastes. Furthermore, working in a continuous way gives us more flexibility concerning the size of the “batch”, and we avoid the destruction of good products that are not used. A typical example is a clinical trial: we need to manufacture a small amount of compound and the continuous process gives us this flexibility, unlike the batch process where the amount of compound depends on the size of reactor. So now researchers are aware about green chemistry practices and they try to develop innovative green processes, but the first priority is the quality for patients.
Fostering innovation is a key role on your current professional field. You have worked to develop a student’s program at UCB and you are currently in charge of the Scientific External Partnership with Universities. What has this experience been like?
Being in charge of Innovation/Technology/Sciences, my job is to develop a tool box to help researchers creating new processes for new drugs with higher quality for patients at a lower cost. When you develop an innovative idea, you take a risk from a budget and resources point of view. In order to reduce these risks, I introduced a student’s program at UCB. What does it mean?
It is a master-student who does the evaluation of the idea during 6 months. So the evaluation of the idea is done at low cost. Furthermore, if the idea is interesting, we go on with the development with a PhD, or a Post-Doc with a Professor at University who is an expert in this area. We reduce the risk of failure as we have an expert to help us developing the idea. So the student’s program is composed with master-student, PhD and post-Doc with a lot of relationships with different Universities. In 2016, we had more than 30 master students, 25 PhD and 3 Post-Docs in TSO (Technical Supply Operations).
Sometimes, I take several PhDs for the same project with several professors from different Universities who have different areas of expertise to solve a problem or to develop a new tool. Each PhD has his own objective but he must work in a team. It is a good experience for everybody. I often observed a silo between chemical and biological experts. It is unfortunate because we can learn from each other and together we can find very innovative solutions.
The student program has another advantage: we have time to evaluate the student during his trainee. It is a good opportunity to hire our new researchers from this pool. In order to create a good relationship between Universities and UCB and to motivate students to apply for a master or a PhD at UCB, I teach in 5 different Universities, in each for about 2.5 days:
- 1 day concerning industrial cases that I had to solve as Chemical Engineer during my professional life
- 1 day concerning Innovation in industrial process (my own vision): what will happen in a close future: I mix innovation in chemical with biological process
- 0.5 day: PAT: Process Analytical Technology.
What advice would you give to early-career professionals seeking to work in industry?
For post-docs or researchers, the most important qualities you must have are to be flexible, mobile and adaptable. Why? Today, we live in a world that changes continuously.
First example: You can enter a company that has a strategy and policy. Tomorrow the company is bought by another one and the strategy and policy change. Even if you stay in the same office for the same job, you must adapt to the new strategy and policy of the new company.
Second example: You can be hired for your expertise in a certain area. Tomorrow, for any reason, the company decides to stop this activity, so you must find a solution: either to develop a new expertise in another area in the company or to leave the company to practice your expertise in another one. It is a problem of flexibility.
Third example: you can have a big opportunity to develop your career in the same company but in other country. What do you do? Are you mobile? Are you adaptable to the new environment in a foreign country? If you are mobile and adaptable you can go for this journey.
Finally, nowadays as a researcher you must follow all new discoveries, new trends that are done in your area and take in account all other advancement from other areas. You will work in a multidisciplinary team and you must adapt yourself to these new technologies.
Here is an example concerning the evolution of communication: in the past we communicated by letters, then by fax, after by email, etc. What kind of new system will it be tomorrow? We are now talking about Industry 4.0, Internet of Things, robots in the laboratory to do our experiments. All these new tools change the ways of working and we must be flexible, adaptable, and mobile to use them. The future starts now, and if you want to know the future, dream it and create it for a better chemistry and for a better life. The only thing that remains constant about technology, sciences, and even the world is the fact that it is constantly changing.
Thank you Dr. Lecomte-Norrant for your valuable participation. We look forward to continuing our discussion in La Rochelle!
ISGC is the leading event for scientists and industries to share their findings on sustainable chemistry. ISGC 2017 will take place in La Rochelle, France from May 16th-19th. NESSE will be present with activities for early-career professionals seeking to be part of a sustainable future.
Editor’s Notes: Ahead of the International Symposium on Green Chemistry, NESSE Member Simon Rauch interviews Professor Wassercheid. Prof. Wassercheid is a German chemist and professor for chemical reaction engineering at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. Prof. Wassercheid will be presenting a plenary lecture at the ISGC on the topic of Novel, selective catalytic routes to organic acids from biomass. If you are attending the ISGC, or would like to participate regardless – NESSE are giving you the opportunity! For full details please see our dedicated ISGC page.
The long list of your awards begins with the first prize at the contest “Jugend forscht” (Young researchers). How did it come that you took part at this contest in the field of chemistry at a humanistic highschool? What is the fascination of chemistry?
It was not my decision to visit a humanistic highschool but my parents’ at this time. The interest in physics and chemistry came during school and so I decided, independently from the type of school, to participate in the “Jugend Forscht” competition. My feeling at this time was that the particular contest of “Jugend forscht” offers a very nice platform for first steps in science. You are free to develop your own topic, you get support by the school, and you have very experienced referees on the different stages of the contest which give you valuable feedback and a first glimpse on how science works. This was very fascinating for me from the very beginning; I understood that what you learn at school is the foundation of a scientific process. I was attracted by the fact that even a very young researcher can easily cross the border to virgin areas in science.
How do you understand the term sustainability?
Research towards sustainable chemical manufacturing implies that all relevant material and energy cycles of a newly developed process should be closed. This is a significant challenge as most of the traditional manufacturing processes in the chemical industry take fossil fuels as material and energy source and many relevant cycles are not fully closed so far. Thus a central question in the development of sustainable chemical processes is: “Will my new technology work without producing something that is not part of the cycle”. Of course, such newly developed technologies are only of value if they are applicable. Applicability includes effectiveness, economic attractiveness, and social compatibility.
How does your research contribute to a sustainable development? What will be the topic of your talk at the ISGC 2017 in La Rochelle?
Here in Erlangen at the Friedrich-Alexander University my group is active in catalysis and material science towards more effective chemical reaction engineering. We apply this to topics like chemical energy storage, selective hydrogenation/dehydrogenation and C-C-coupling reactions but also to biomass conversion processes. In La Rochelle I will talk about new routes to convert biomass to formic acid and acrylic acid and probably also about hydrogen storage technologies based on Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carrier (LOHC) systems.
You talked about more effectiveness. But I often hear efficiency in the context of sustainability. An increasing efficiency comes along with a higher chance of external effects in the range of systemic risk. This increases the vulnerability of the entire system. Shouldn’t we be more aware of the balance between efficiency and resilience?
Well, it is getting a bit philosophical here I think that a researcher dedicated to the goal of sustainability should define the terms “effective” and “efficient” in a sustainable manner. This would exclude the negative effects that you have mentioned. You may criticize chemical engineering approaches of the past that have strived for greater efficiency and left some aspects of sustainability out and this is exactly what we should avoid in the future. So our “effective” and “efficient” is exactly an effectiveness and efficiency in a closed cycle that aims for maximizing sustainability. And therefore I don’t see a contradiction between my definition of effectiveness and efficiency and the term of sustainability.
Do you think that a technological development is sufficient to reduce the risk our society is confronted with? I don’t believe in the sustainability of an economic system, which is based on the paradigm of infinite growth on a planet with limited resources. Is humbleness a necessary virtue of scientists?
First of all, infinite growth in quantities is indeed a problematic goal. In contrast, if we talk about a growth in quality, this is the way to go. Growth and sustainability are not in contradiction, if you talk about a growth in quality of your processes and products. If people are ready to pay more for the higher quality, we generate growth on the economic scale without just numbering up and wasting more resources.
Humbleness is important for every scientists, because the world is full of secrets and not everything can be overlooked by a human being in 2017. We are not one hundred percent sure, whether the things we propose to increase sustainability now, will be seen as a positive contribution to this goal in 2050. The scientific development is full of misjudgement with respect to what future generations need. Still, with all the knowledge we have, all the knowledge that we can look up very quickly today on the internet, I think the chance that we go completely wrong if we honestly try to be sustainable, is very low.
You recommended a career in academia for those who don’t see the sense of their life in increasing the profit of a company, because scientists work for reputation and honor. But are scientists still able to work freely as this was meant to be, for example by Alexander Humboldt or Karl Jaspers. Or are they more and more subjected by the New Public Management?
This is a question regarding the funding situation of an academic institution like ours. We have a large research group that is working on interesting scientific questions, but in order to have such a large group, we need to bring in third-party funding. This external funding comes from different organisations, for example the German Science Foundation, the European Community or different industrial partners. Every sponsor has its own agenda. This agenda may be fundamental science, like in the case of the German Science Foundation, but it may also be a close networking of industry and academia towards a potential product, problem solution or market scenarios.
I think one has to be so fair to say, that academic research is very expensive and so it has to give something back to the society. One very important part is the student education, but another part is to create some sort of value for the society on a short, medium or long term. I can accept politicians or tax payers which expect that an engineering institution should have an impact on the technological development of a country. This is different from an academic institution in humanities, where the questions are typically much more fundamental. It would be wrong if academic engineering institutions would avoid the contact with real world problems. The only reason why you need to be an engineer is to transfer fundamental knowledge into better products or processes. This has naturally an exposure to application and industrial realisation.
Having said this, I have the opinion that also an engineering professor should have the freedom to follow her or his visionary and future-oriented ideas on a longer timescale even if these have no immediate application today. I would certainly like to have more longterm funding to follow such type of research directions. If you would give me money for five positions guaranteed for the next fifteen years, I would certainly start to develop topics that are different from the current hypes and could potentially be of high future value.
German Universities have problems with the copyright law and digital access to scientific literature. Shouldn’t we start to think about open access to scientific insights and increase the transparency in exchange to public funding?
This is a question that has many different implications and is not easy to answer in a couple of sentences. One problem is certainly that some publishers see publishing of scientific results as big business, with maximizing return on investment to make shareholders happy. Consequently, it becomes more and more unaffordable for scientific institutions to cover the cost for the needed full access to the current state-of-the-art. On the other hand, scientists write for free, referee for free and edit for free. They typically do so to work on their own scientific reputation. This looks indeed like a rather unfair system. So, in the future, we have to find better ways to assure top quality refereeing and fair paper selection that still give full access of the scientific community to all relevant results.
It is also problematic that many scientific communities have created strong incentives to maximize the quantitative paper output of their scientists. Even with all the electronic databases, it is inefficient if a certain part of the publications is just produced by the need to publish and not by the need to communicate essential results. Of course, this aspect has a strong interplay with the questions how you rank scientists, how you distribute resources and, in some countries, even how scientists are paid.
Has the research in the field of sustainability had an effect on the way you live your life?
It gives you a good feeling. I try to do my scientific work in a way that I can discuss with people about it without feeling ashamed. I want to give them the feeling that we contribute to a better future of our society. This gives me a personal satisfaction and therefore it contributes in a positive manner to my life. This would be certainly different, if I would have to do research for a company or organisation on things that I do not feel appropriate for a sustainable development. This is one good thing of being a professor, because you can freely select your topics and your scientific goals.
This post was edited by Thomas Clark.
Editor’s Notes: We are so proud at NESSE of the great events championed by our NESSE groups! Here’s a blog post taken from GreenSTEMS after their recent social symposium.
One Planet Week was full of interesting events to attend, all supporting a better world and a better life. GreenSTEMS could not be left out of this inspiring week! Our Living Smaller, Living Greener symposium was a success and we had great feedback. If you enjoyed this afternoon and want a bit more information, or if you couldn’t attend, keep reading for a summary of the talks.
The afternoon started with Jonathan Avery from Tiny House Scotland giving us an introduction to the concept of the tiny houses movement and its spread across the world. Tiny houses are not just gorgeous, they are also movable, greener and more affordable than normal houses. Jonathan gave us a tour of his own tiny house, Nest House, and mesmerized all of us; after all, the best things in life come in small packages. If you want to learn more about this new housing concept and admire truly stunning photos of minimalist homes, check out Jonathan’s website at https://tinyhousescotland.co.uk/.
Our second speaker, Matthew Redding, opened our eyes to a unsettling truth: it’s not just our housing that needs to change, it’s our lifestyle. Matthew walked us through the ways we can achieve sustainability with architecture and introduced us to the concept of Passivhaus, a set of architectural guidelines for building or retrofitting low-impact buildings. Then, we learned about LILAC, a low impact living affordable community. The LILAC project is an inspiring community in west Leeds, just a short train trip away, so don’t miss the chance to learn more about it and visit it. Check http://www.lilac.coop/ for more information, or explore this map of UK Passivhaus buildings to see if there’s one near you: www.peterwarm.co.uk/resources/passivhaus-uk-map/.
The afternoon moved on from architecture to community-based change with a talk given by Sue Bird and James Newton from YorSpace. YorSpace is a group of York friends and neighbours who are working to provide low-cost, sustainable, cooperatively-owned housing, with a cohousing concept similar to LILAC. We were all inspired by the sense of community and equality of this wonderful project, and excited to hear about their future success. If you want to be a part of YorSpace or learn more, just go to http://yorspace.org/.
Our next speaker, John “Compost” Cossham, shared with us the secrets of low carbon impact living. He has an impressive (and enviable) low carbon footprint; such a great achievement might have you thinking that you cannot do the same…Calm down! Making small changes in your daily life can make a lot of difference. Some of those simple ideas are: turn off electronics before go to sleep, and use a lid when cooking. Cycle or walk to work instead of using the car. Recycle as much as you can and compost your organic waste. Care about where your electricity is coming from, getting energy from reliable companies is a good step forward. As John said, “it is all about reducing the bad and increasing the good”. Check his blog for more information http://lowcarbonlifestyle.blogspot.co.uk/.
The next talk, by Ian Clare from North Yorkshire Rotters, was dedicated to another issue: food waste. It was shocking to hear that on average, we each throw away six meals per week! Students in particular waste a lot of food… However, this can be avoided by simple changes. Go to the market more often if you can, or plan two weeks of meals before shopping if you can’t. Another important thing is to keep track of the expiry dates. Make a list of what you have in the fridge and the use by date, it is not much work and will save you a lot of money too. In a pinch, you can freeze food up to 24 hours before it expires to make it last indefinitely! Finding ways to use leftovers is another important step, you can find great ideas at https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/.
Finally, we were introduced to two lovely initiatives at the university. York Edible Uni, as their secretary Apple Chew told us, aims to grow fresh, free vegetables for students and staff on university campus. They have built volunteer garden allotments on campus, and everyone is free to pick anything they find growing there. You can also come get your hands dirty at their weekly gardening sessions on Wednesdays. Have a look at https://www.york.ac.uk/students/campus-city/sustainable-york/get-growing/edible-uni/ and find where the gardens are located and how to get involved. The university’s Green Impact team aims to reduce every department’s impact on the environment. It works through a set of tasks to be achieved annually and gives golden, silver, or bronze awards to the departments. Ask your department if you are already involved and find out more at https://www.york.ac.uk/about/sustainability/get-involved/greenimpact/
Thanks again to all of our speakers, and the sustainably-minded folks who came out to East Campus to learn, and contributed diverse viewpoints to the discussion. Hope to see you next time!
Editor’s Note: Here we have a book review contributed by Katy Cooper. Katy is a consultant and writer on preventing non-communicable diseases, focusing particularly on the lifestyle factors of poor diet, physical inactivity and smoking, and on the impact of the environment on health. You can read a more extensive version of this review on Katy’s blog at http://www.katycooper.co.uk
Even in Britain where we talk incessantly about the weather, broader climate change is rarely a topic of conversation. It may make the news occasionally, but it is far from a mainstream concern – despite being, as The Lancet put it in 2009, “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. In the timely, thought-provoking and cogently argued Talking Climate, Adam Corner and Jamie Clarke set out how climate change can be brought not only into conversation but into our way of life, breaking the “social silence” that surrounds it and – one hopes – setting us on our individual paths to a sustainable future.
The book lays down five principles to begin to bridge the gap from established science to everyday reality – establishing a process to engage the public at this crucial time for the planet.
First, learn from previous campaigns – which have, largely, failed to make anything other than a fleeting impact. Next, “being right is not the same as being persuasive”, and climate change must connect with people’s existing, established values. This is not a right- or left-wing issue: Mrs Thatcher, herself a scientist, was entirely convinced by the evidence for climate change, and framed action as being about responsibility, leadership and safeguarding our world.
We also need to tell new narratives (stories) that speak to actual experience – our visual and verbal language (whether an image of a polar bears or talking about ‘2 degrees’) has fallen short.
Just nudging us into recycling or providing us with short-term economic incentives isn’t going to make the difference. Instead, something intrinsic needs to click: we need “climate citizenship” (and taking responsibility for the future) to be part of our individual identity. Finally, the new narratives must be supported by new and different voices (trusted messengers) – whether sports teams, Mumsnet, trade unions or religious leaders.
Talking Climate is particularly prescient in the context of the ongoing seismic political shifts in countries such as the UK and USA – shifts that themselves speak to deeply held, intrinsic values but which, all too often, distort the evidence. The challenge here is to counter this post-truth trend, creating an even more convincing alternative that speaks to values and uses narratives that ring true, even in a context in which expertise is downplayed or simply ignored.
But the one thing that we cannot and must not do is remain silent.
Adam Corner and Jamie Clarke, Talking Climate: From Research to Practice in Public Engagement (2017), is published by Palgrave Macmillan.