Green By Design: Advances in Chemistry and Engineering symposium held at U of T

May 2018

Green chemistry encompasses much more than just designing new chemicals or reactions in the laboratory, it also encourages more efficient and sustainable processes in chemical industry, safer lab practices, strategies for environmental remediation, reducing waste and emissions along all steps of a supply chain, as well as improved monitoring techniques. The sustainable practices that are brought together under the name 'green chemistry' require a much broader group of scientists and engineers working together at many different levels. And even though many people are working towards sustainability in various industries, the connection to the principles of green chemistry is not always obvious.

To bring together these many aspects of green chemistry, the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI) at the University of Toronto hosted our 6th annual symposium titled 'Green by Design: Advances in Chemistry and Engineering' from May 23 - 25, 2018. We chose the theme this year to emphasize the need to bring scientists and engineers together to design and apply sustainable practices in their field. In past years, a majority of our participants have been chemists, so we made an extra effort this year to advertise to and include engineering students and speakers. There are many people working in different areas of science and engineering toward a common goal of sustainability and we are happy to have brought some of them together at the symposium to share ideas and common interests!

The 3-day symposium had a full schedule of invited speakers from academia, industry, and government. In addition, we organized a poster presentation session and networking events for the speakers and participants to have a chance to discuss what they are working on and make connections. Students, postdoctoral fellows, and professionals came together to participate in our symposium and learn more about green chemistry, engineering, and sustainability in general. Most of our participants were from the Toronto area, but we were happy to host some participants from across North America.

 Yuchan Dong

Lively discussion at the poster session during the Green By Design: Advances in Chemistry and Engineering symposium. Photo credit: Yuchan Dong

Frank Gu, associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Waterloo, gave a keynote public lecture to start the symposium. He gave a great overview of his research group's work on designing a photocatalyst for remediation of oil sands process water, remediation of contaminated soils, as well as using nanomaterials in biomedical applications, for example to identify pathogens. Gu's research is very interdisciplinary and applicable to many interests, so having it as a public lecture meant that anyone can attend for free even if they were not attending the rest of the symposium.

 Yuchan Dong

Attendees at the public keynote lecture given by chemical engineering professor Frank Gu on the first day of the symposium. Photo credit: Yuchan Dong

Invited speakers from various backgrounds and fields continued the symposium programming. Two speakers from Natural Resources Canada, Cécile Siewe and Philippe Dauphin, shared the research they are doing in government laboratories to support innovation in the oil sands industry and in materials science for clean technology. Some of the projects they shared included hydrocarbon recovery, tailings treatment, and environmental impact of the Canadian Oil Sands, as well as design of lightweight materials for transportation, improving materials for engines that withstand high temperature and pressure, and developing materials for biomass conversion that are corrosion resistant. It was great to see all of the sustainable innovation research happening here in Canada!

Speakers from different chemical industries or companies shared the research and decisions that their companies are making to reduce their environmental impact and use or design safer materials and products. These speakers included Laura Hoch from Patagonia (who is also a U of T alumna and co-founder of the GCI), Scott Backer from Dow Chemical, Jenny Du from Apeel Sciences, and Charles Barton from Sherwin-Williams. They talked about topics ranging from choosing responsible and sustainable materials in the textile industry, designing dishwashing detergents without phosphate, extending the lifetime of perishable foods, and finding safer alternatives to bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics and packaging materials.

Finally, Nathan Manion, a postdoctoral fellow from Queen's University, lead an interactive case study on how to approach a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for an industrial process. The participants worked in groups and were encouraged to design a plan to carry out an LCA that would apply to biomass conversion into various valuable products. Many choices have to be made before you even start crunching the numbers in an LCA, so the groups took on different perspectives within this industrial process and made decisions on their end goals for carrying out the LCA (i.e. who is the information for, what metrics do they want to use to assess the process) and the scope of the LCA (i.e. how much of the process will be included, what is the spatial and temporal resolution needed). The participants learned that an LCA can be carried out in many different ways, with each group making different decisions based on their perspective and their goals.

The symposium was a great success with active participation, insightful questions, and many discussions on a variety of green or sustainable topics. Thanks to all of our speakers and participants for joining us and we look forward to planning another great symposium next year!

 Yuchan Dong

Many participants and speakers came together to network and socialize at the end of the GCI's 6th annual symposium. Photo credit: Yuchan Dong

We would not have been able to host this symposium without our generous sponsors and supporters including: University of Toronto Environmental Resource Network (UTERN), the Chemical Institute of Canada's Chemical Education Fund, University of Toronto's departments of Chemistry, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, and Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry, The Student Life Student Initiative Fund, University of Toronto Graduate Students' Union, and University of Toronto Faculty of Arts & Science.

The GCI is completely volunteer-run by department of chemistry graduate students, and we could not have pulled this off without the great work by the symposium committee including: Yuchan Dong, Karlee Bamford, James LaFortune, Karl Demmans, Samantha Smith, Brian Tsui, and Rachel Hems, with special help from Alex Waked and Fioralba Taullaj.