For the second time since its inception in 1996, the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award went to a Carnegie Mellon University chemist.
Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, J.C. Warner Professor of the Natural Sciences and University Professor at the university, was honored with the distinction from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at a ceremony June 22, 2009, in Washington, D.C.
Matyjaszewski was recognized for his development of an environmentally low-impact form of Atom Transfer Radical Polymerization (ATRP) — a widely used method for the preparation of functional polymers.
“The award-winning technologies that we are celebrating today are just the kind of innovations that will help us build the clean energy–based economy envisioned by the President," said Amelia Salzman, Associate Director for Policy Outreach, White House Council on Environmental Quality, said at the awards ceremony. "The shift to green chemistry will create green jobs, safer conditions for workers and less pollution and will save energy, natural resources and money.”
The EPA's Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge promotes research and development of less-hazardous alternatives to existing technologies in an effort to reduce or eliminate waste — particularly hazardous waste — in industrial production.
"Approximately 400 billion pounds of synthetic polymers are produced each year. Often, hazardous chemicals are used to produce these important industrial products," said Matyjaszewski. "We've been able use environmentally friendly chemicals, such as vitamin C, to reduce the level of catalyst employed in ATRP by a factor of over 1,000. This both enhances the scope of the procedure and reduces the environmental impact of polymer fabrication."
Carnegie Mellon has now received the distinction twice. Terry Collins, Thomas Lord Professor of Chemistry, received the award in 1999 for the development of TAML oxidant activators — catalysts that safely remove toxic chemicals from water.
ATRP is among the most effective and widely used methods of controlled radical polymerization (CRP). It allows scientists to easily form polymers by piecing together their component parts in a controlled fashion.
Assembling polymers in such a manner has allowed scientists to create a wide range of polymers that can be used for coatings, adhesives, lubricants, cosmetics and electronics. This technology also allows for the production of "smart" materials that can respond to altered environments, such as changes in pressure, acidity, light exposure or other variables. Some of the polymers are under investigation for possible use in the medical and environmental fields.
ATRP relies on a specialized copper catalyst to form a polymer chain. In the early stages of ATRP development, high levels of copper catalyst were required to maintain the process. This problem persisted even after more active catalysts were developed. As a result, the materials manufactured using ATRP contained high levels of copper.
In 2006, Matyjaszewski and colleagues introduced a green approach to ATRP that incorporates environmentally benign reducing agents, like vitamin C and sugars to regenerate the active form of the catalyst. The reducing agents chemically lessen the amount of copper catalyst needed for the reactions by as much as 1,000 times, significantly reducing the output of potentially hazardous materials employed in ATRP and used for purification.
"Kris is a dedicated chemist whose work has revolutionized the way we produce polymers," said Richard McCullough, vice president of research at Carnegie Mellon. "There is no doubt that his discovery of an environmentally-friendly form of ATRP will lead to new green materials and technologies that will change the world for the better."
ATRP has been widely accepted by both the scientific and industrial communities as an important way to produce polymers. As of 2008, Matyjaszewski's group has published more than 500 papers on CRP, and these papers have been cited more than 30,000 times.
In 2006, ATRP formed the basis for a Carnegie Mellon spin-off company called ATRP Solutions, which uses the technology to develop next generation materials for evaluation by their customers in their targeted markets. Along with ATRP Solutions, seven corporations — PPG Industries, Dionex, Ciba, Kaneka, Mitsubishi, WEP and Encapson — have licensed ATRP and have begun to produce high-performance, less-hazardous, safer materials for a wide variety of applications.