For my second interview in the Virginia Tech series, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Richard Turner. Like Dr. Long, he worked in the chemical industry and saw that most of the companies that practice green chemistry do so for regulatory and financial reasons. While working in the private sector Dr. Turner worked on plastics made without solvents – in ‘melt phase reactions.’ Melt phase processes eliminate energy consuming steps or the need to add something else to the waste stream. They are inherently more environmentally friendly. They work by placing solids (which don’t react very fast) into solution so that the molecules can have the mobility to find each other and react.
In his own labs on campus, Dr. Turner has a few projects in melt phase rather than in solution as described above. His lab is also trying to make polymers that capture carbon dioxide. He describes:
“Carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere is going to be an increasingly large issue – we have to invest in the research now to learn how to capture and sequester the carbon dioxide. Polymer particles have huge surface areas, with ligands that can capture CO2. The sorbent (“a material used to absorb liquids or gases,” according to Wikipedia; yes, I had to look it up) and ligands capture CO2 and then moves it to reactor where it releases it, concentrating the CO2.”
Dr. Turner is also on the science advisory board of the company, Novomer, which was featured in a previous article on converting oranges to plastic. He works on biodegradability and reducing the overall energy footprint. “We have to make sure we do really tough and detailed analysis of our choices.”
In the classroom, Dr. Turner teaches a course called: “Future Industrial Professionals in Science and Engineering”. The course caters to scientists and engineers who want to go into industry. He divides the class into groups who run individual projects; this year all the projects were sustainability driven. There were three projects in total: the first worked to extend the shelf life of food; the second worked to improve battery life; the third worked to make a better membrane for reverse osmosis.
Outside of his own class, Dr. Turner was impressed with Tech’s sustainability. He discussed the accomplishments of the College of Natural Resources and the Environment, while also noting the strong Renewable Resources Group.
AGC applauds Dr. Turner’s hard work with sustainable chemistry, and hopes it serves as inspiration to other chemists.