Krzysztof Matyjaszewski Receives EPA's Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, June 22, 2009

Krzysztof Matyjaszewski Receives EPA's Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award

WASHINGTON—Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, the J.C. Warner Professor of the Natural Sciences and University Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, received the 2009 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Matyjaszewski, the second Carnegie Mellon professor to receive the award, was recognized in the academic category for the development of an environmentally low-impact form of Atom Transfer Radical Polymerization (ATRP), a widely used method for 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. The shift to green chemistry will create green jobs, safer conditions for workers and less pollution and will save energy, natural resources and money,” said Amelia Salzman, associate director for policy outreach for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, at the June 22 awards ceremony.

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,” Matyjaszewski said. “We’ve been able to 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.”

Developed at Carnegie Mellon by Matyjaszewski in 1995, ATRP is among the most effective and most commonly 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 with highly specific, tailored functionalities. 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.

Polymers created using ATRP have been used for coatings, adhesives, lubricants, cosmetics and electronics and are currently under investigation for 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.”  

Both the scientific and industrial communities have largely accepted ATRP as an important way to produce polymers. As of 2008, Matyjaszewski’s group published more than 500 papers on CRP, and these papers have been cited more than 30,000 times, making Matyjaszewski one of the most cited researchers in the field of chemistry.

In 2006, ATRP formed the basis for a Carnegie Mellon spin-off company called ATRP Solutions that uses the technology to develop next generation materials for evaluation by their customers in their targeted markets. Along with ATRP Solutions, seven corporations, including 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.  

Matyjaszewski is the second chemist from Carnegie Mellon to win this award since its inception in 1996. Terry Collins, the 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.

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Pictured above is Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, the J.C. Warner Professor of the Natural Sciences and University Professor at Carnegie Mellon.

By: Jocelyn Duffy