TUM San Francisco: Green chemistry for a cleaner, safer world

News, TUM San Francisco |

On November 23, 2020 over 25 researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM), McGill University in Canada, and Technion – Israel Institute of Technology met for a virtual workshop to discuss green chemistry approaches. Both McGill and Technion are important and valued TUM partners, but this is the first time all three universities have come together to collaborate on a single project.

Green energy: Plant seedlings in test tube
Sustainable chemistry: valuable research for a better future. Photo: iStock.com / Dragan Smiljkovic

The Workshop to Foster Collaborative Research Projects in Green Chemistry was organized by the TUM San Francisco Office, the McGill Office of Research and Innovation, and the Faculty of Chemistry at Technion.

The participants included leading research chemists and engineers from the three universities. Prof. Thomas Brück and included professors Thorsten Bach, Ulrich Heiz, Kai-Olaf Hinrichsen, Fritz Kühn, Johannes Lercher, Hartmut Spliethoff, Dr. Sebastian Fendt, Dr. Enrico Hupfeld, and Dr. Martin Tschurl led the TUM delegation.

Facing environmental challenges

In her opening remarks, TUM Senior Vice President for International Alliances and Alumni Prof. Juliane Winkelmann noted the need for comprehensive solutions to the issues confronting our world today: dwindling resources, increasing population, and a changing climate. She challenged the researchers to wrestle with questions, such as: can we enable industry to carry out cleaner chemical reactions? Can we mimic living systems to engineer chemical processes that are less harmful to the planet? Can we accomplish these goals without overburdening the environment with our energy needs?

We know that chemical reactions can be costly to the environment. On an industrial scale, they may cause pollution, require huge inputs of energy, or themselves produce energy that is simply wasted or released in a destructive manner. Catalysts make chemical reactions happen in ways they would not do on their own. If we use the right catalysts at the right stages of a chemical reaction, however, it can be carried out more efficiently and in a clean, controlled fashion. Custom-designed chemical reactions can also save energy or be used to produce energy in a useful way.

Working together to find solutions

With these principles in mind, the workshop participants met in three concurrent sessions, each focusing on a different aspect of green chemistry: chemical catalysis, biocatalysis, and energy systems. The chemical catalysis group was chaired by Prof. Ilan Marek of Technion. The biocatalysis group was chaired by Prof. Bruce Lennox of McGill University, and the energy systems group was chaired by Dr. Sebastian Fendt of TUM. The researchers in each group presented their current research interests and then discussed opportunities to work together in the future.

In the end, everyone agreed that the workshop led by TUM and its partners McGill and Technion was a hopeful beginning to a new era in green chemistry.