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Dow’s Andrew Liveris Honored with Kavaler Award, Speaks Sustainability
Posted on November 13th, 2015 by Christina Valimaki in Chemical R&D
What is meant when we toss around the term sustainability, in terms of chemicals production and innovation? In my view, out of all of the green chemistry principles from design for degradation to real-time pollution analysis, perhaps the most fundamentally significant shift toward greener chemistry will be the move toward a biofuel based economy.
The opportunity present in plant feedstocks, and the need for technological solutions to enable efficient capture of that opportunity, is huge. In the words of Dr. Richard Wool, “Nature produces about 170 billion tons of plant biomass annually, of which we currently use about 3.5 % for human needs. It is estimated that about 40 billion tons of biomass, or about 25 % of the annual production, would be required to completely generate a bio-based economy. The technical challenge in the use of such renewable feedstocks is to develop low energy, non-toxic pathways to convert the biomass to useful chemicals in a manner that does not generate more carbon than is being removed” by plant consumption of carbon through photosynthesis. So, is sustainability in chemicals production, specifically renewable feedstock sourcing, refining, and processing, an growing part of our immediate future, or all hype?
(Source: Frost & Sullivan 2010, http://www.slideshare.net/FrostandSullivan/market-and-technology-foresights-for-the-oleochemical-industry-and-market-outlook-for-the-sea-region)
Two weeks ago I was honored to join our colleagues at ICIS in celebrating the achievements of Dow Chemical and their Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris, who in a vote by top chemical company CEOs was bestowed the 2015 Kavaler Award. Mr. Liveris spoke movingly and repeatedly of the impact the industry has on our lives, on our lifestyle. “At the end of the day, it is our chemistry that defines us,” he shared. Liveris could not be more literally accurate in that statement, but the symbolism is what brought the audience to their feet that night as we dined at the New York Public Library. The symbolism, and his explicit commentary on the promise the future holds for my generation, and those to follow, to redefine our lifestyles and consumption as increasingly, and relatively painlessly, sustainable. “To makes sustainability a priority is a goal our younger generation wants to see through.”
Today NASA announced a planned study of the way land and sea plant life consumes carbon. The concern is that the mechanism may change as our climate does, specifically a potential delta in the rate of carbon absorption. The current estimate that the earth’s flora, the natural plant matter on land and in the sea, absorb roughly half of the carbon humans produce, may need to be revised if conditions shift. This work will help us be prepared, help us adapt, specifically through chemical innovation and ideally toward sustainable chemical sources. After all, we inhabit a planet that breathes, and we are defined by “our” chemistry, the chemistry that makes up our physical existance and the chemistry we have innovated and continue to innovate.
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