Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes

NSF Supports Science and Technology Center for Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes

For the past nine years, researchers at the National Science Foundation-funded Science and Technology Center for Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes (CERSP) have been developing sustainable technology for processes that could be used manufacture high-value products using “green” or environmentally-friendly solvents.

The benefits of using “green solvents”—less hazardous manufacturing solvents like carbon dioxide, for example—are numerous. Essentially, they allow products to be manufactured in a more sustainable way, decreasing pollutants such as greenhouse gas emissions, and requiring less energy to produce.

By applying the principles of green chemistry—reducing or eliminating production and use of hazardous substances—the investigators at CERSP have developed systems and devices that allow more efficient and directed pharmaceutical or drug delivery, that may double oil production from petroleum reserves, and that will promote more efficient sustainable energy production (i.e. fuel cells and solar panels).

Dr. Joseph DeSimone, the Director of CERSP, has been a green chemistry pioneer. In the early 1990s he developed a non-polluting polymerization technology using carbon dioxide as a solvent. DuPont licensed this technology to make TEFLON®, the non-stick, chemically-resistant material used in chemical processing, electronics, and fabric protection, among other things. For several years, DuPont has been running a multi-million pound demo plan in North Carolina that uses this process to produce TEFLON® and is currently designing a full-scale commercial plant. In addition to providing potential environmental benefits, the process produces high grades of TEFLON® that cannot be produced using other technologies.

DeSimone has also co-founded four spin-off companies, based on basic green chemistry research and technology developed at the center. One of these companies, Liquidia Technologies, Inc, is based on technology originally developed to make microcircuits. DeSimone and his colleagues have adapted this technology to make “designer” nanoparticles that can be used to deliver and release drugs to specific targets in the body, thereby decreasing side effects. Another company, Hangers Cleaners (which has been bought by Cool Clean Technologies), used carbon dioxide instead of hazardous solvents for dry cleaning.

Researchers at CSERP are attracting outside funding sources in addition to the National Science Foundation base funding: for 2008-2013, center scientists have helped attract $340 million additional funding, including $315 million from sources outside of NSF, with $290 million of that from non-Federal sources.

Since CERSP opened nine years ago, 77 patents have been issued or are pending and eight start-up companies have been initiated. Without the base support from NSF and other Federal funding agencies, many, if not all, of these developments would not have been possible.

For more information about the research going on at CSERP, visit this site: http://www.nsfstc.unc.edu/