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Hearing Testimony


The Green Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2004

Testimony of
Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr., Acting Director
National Science Foundation
Before the U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Science

March 17, 2004

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I am pleased to have the opportunity to testify before you this morning on the National Science Foundation's support of research on green chemistry and engineering, and specifically on the legislation under consideration by the Committee.

Green chemistry and engineering are critical components of a comprehensive approach to manufacturing – an approach that considers not just the desired product, but the feedstocks, energy costs, purification procedures, and environmental impact associated with making the product.

Over the past dozen years, the National Science Foundation (NSF), principally through the Division of Chemical and Transport Systems and the Division of Chemistry, has been investing in basic research that supports this holistic view of what might be called "the molecular economy." This approach integrates manufacturing with environmental considerations. Through existing partnerships with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), NSF has been leveraging its investments in green chemistry and engineering for almost a decade.

Beginning in 1991, the two NSF divisions announced a joint program in Environmentally Benign Chemical Synthesis and Processing, whose goal was to reduce the environmental footprint of manufacturing processes while maintaining economic competitiveness. In 1994, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between NSF and the EPA that had three components, one of which was a program to support Technology for a Sustainable Environment (TSE). The TSE program, launched in 1995 and administered nearly annually since then, will be formally reviewed in May, 2004. In addition, some components of Biocomplexity in the Environment, an NSF Priority Area, support studies of the use of resources and pollutant transport in the environment.

The current NSF investments in green chemistry and engineering are approximately $11 million per year in the Division of Chemistry and $13 million per year in the Division of Chemical and Transport Systems. Areas of support include chemical synthesis, catalysis, separations research, and environmental research. Advances in chemical synthesis provide new products and alternative chemical routes to existing products that minimize or eliminate potentially harmful byproducts. New catalysts can be used to accelerate desired reactions, lower the energy costs associated with them, and reduce their hazards and environmental impact. Separations research can lead to more environmentally friendly and cost-effective methods for purifying chemical feedstocks and products. The design of green manufacturing processes is guided by NSF-supported basic research that characterizes the fate of molecular species in the environment through experimental, theoretical, modeling and simulation studies.

NSF funding supports both individual investigators and multi-investigator, interdisciplinary teams of researchers working on green chemistry and engineering projects. Projects typically include undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral research associates, who are trained through these awards. A number of young investigators supported through NSF's CAREER program have projects related to green chemistry and engineering. Adding value to NSF awards in these areas is an MOU with NIST under which NSF awardees may apply for supplements that enable them to travel to NIST to take advantage of NIST facilities and expertise.

An example of a team approach to green chemistry and engineering is the Science and Technology Center for Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Partners include North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T University, the University of Texas at Austin, Georgia Institute of Technology, and a large number of industrial affiliates). Research at this center has already led to new green manufacturing processes. For example, the center has pioneered the industrial use of carbon dioxide as a reaction medium, thereby avoiding production, use and subsequent release into our environment of contaminated water, volatile organic solvents, chlorofluorocarbons and other noxious pollutants. DuPont has recently invested in the construction of a plant in North Carolina to use this technology in the manufacture of materials like Teflon®. Research supported at this center has also yielded new, less hazardous dry cleaning technologies and this research is being extended to process applications for the microelectronics industry.

For example, current manufacturing processes in the semiconductor industry involve toxic solvents, poisonous metals, and corrosive chemicals. The NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) on Environmentally Benign Semiconductor Processing, based at the University of Arizona with partners at Stanford University and MIT, is developing alternative technologies that both substitute safer materials in production of semiconductor devices and minimize waste and water use. This Center has demonstrated the use of high-pressure carbon dioxide as a green solvent in microchip fabrication and has developed improved methods for water purification and recycling. One of the young faculty members at Arizona was recognized this year as one of Scientific American's 50 most influential researchers. In the past five years this Center has spawned four new start-up companies that are commercializing their novel, environmentally friendly technologies.

The NSF supports smaller projects in green chemistry and engineering involving partnerships of academic institutions with industry and/or national laboratories through its Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaisons with Industry (GOALI) and its Environmental Molecular Science Institutes (EMSI) programs. The EMSI program is managed by the Division of Chemistry and includes the Geosciences Directorate at NSF and the Department of Energy as partners. Several EMSI projects provide a molecular-level perspective on industrial processes that allow an understanding of their environmental impact at the level of ecosystems.

A measure of the quality of investments made through NSF awards is that nearly all of the academic winners who have received the EPA's Presidential Green Challenge Award have been NSF-supported investigators. This award recognizes major contributions to green chemistry and engineering research that have significant societal impact.

Broader impacts of green chemistry and engineering are supported both through a variety of technical workshops and through education and outreach activities. Many Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) projects provide summer research opportunities for advanced undergraduates in basic research related to green chemistry and engineering. Instrumentation and curricular investments across NSF likewise contribute to education and the development of the future workforce that will be needed to develop and implement ideas to promote green chemistry and engineering.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to briefly comment on the draft Green Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2004. As I mentioned earlier, NSF and the Environmental Protection Agency have an ongoing technology for a sustainable environment program that appears to be meeting many of the goals of this bill. NSF has worked with both the Department of Energy and NIST in this area as well. So we are in complete agreement on the value of research on processes and products that reduce the generation or use of hazardous substances. Although we welcome Congressional attention and oversight in this area, we are always concerned about the unintended consequences of codifying research programs into law. While we look forward to working the Committee to implementing the goals of this legislation, the Administration believes that it is unnecessary to enact this legislation at this time.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify on a topic of great importance to the science and engineering community, to the economy, and to the environment. I would be pleased to respond to any questions you might have.



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