Grants awarded to young green chemists

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has awarded grants for research in the field of green chemistry to leading young scientists.

The ceremony was held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris and was timed to coincide with World Science Day for Peace and Development. In attendance were UNESCO Assistant Director-General Shamila Nair-Bedouelle and Deputy Director-General Xing QuPeggy Oti-Boateng, Director of UNESCO’s Division of Science Policy; Natalia Tarasova, Director of the Institute of Chemistry and Sustainable Development at the Dmitry Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology of Russia and a former president of IUPAC.

The global Green Chemistry for Life programme, run by UNESCO, IUPAC and PhosAgro, was initiated by Andrey G. Guryev, Vice President of the Russian Chemists Union and Deputy Chairman of PhosAgro’s Board of Directors, and supported by the UN. This is the first time in the long history of UNESCO and the entire UN system that such an initiative is being implemented with extra-budgetary funds and, moreover, funds provided by the Russian business PhosAgro, which is one of the project partners.

Since the programme’s launch in 2014, the authoritative international scientific jury consisting of 13 scientists from 11 countries has reviewed more than 700 applications from 120 countries submitted by young scientists conducting advanced research in the field of green chemistry. The diverse origins of the winners demonstrates the programme’s global reach, with 41 young scientists from 29 countries in AsiaAfrica, the Middle EastEurope and Latin America having already received grants.

Tarasova noted the advanced level of most of the projects submitted to the jury: “With every year, the number of projects submitted to the jury is growing and their quality improving. This means that the Green Chemistry for Life programme has been successful it its main mission: encouraging young scientists to focus not on immediate success but on an objective assessment of the impact of the proposed chemical processes and technological solutions on the environment. It is very encouraging that many of the participants have published dozens of scientific papers in widely respected journals, and I’m certain that the grants provided to the winners will help them carry out their scientific projects.”

In 2019, the international scientific jury selected seven winners: Jesús Campos Manzano (Spain), María Antonieta Fernández-Herrera (Mexico), Abu Ashfaqur Sajib (Bangladesh), Wilbert Mtangi (Zimbabwe), Sara Abdel Hamid Abdel Gaber (Egypt), Hamdy Hefny (Egypt) and Galina Kalashnikova (Russia), the second winner from Russia following Alsu Akhmetshina (in 2016 Alsu won a grant to support research into reducing the negative impact of polymer waste that is causing both water and land pollution).

The work of all these young chemists is aimed at creating breakthrough technologies focused on environmental protection, healthcare, food, energy efficiency and the management of natural resources.

The innovative technology developed by Kalashnikova, who works at the Kola Scientific Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, will make it possible to create synthetic titanosilicate materials from industrial waste. These materials are used in the production of lithium batteries, for gas separation in industry and for medical purposes, as well as for the absorption of toxic and hazardous substances.

According to Kalashnikova, “The synthesis of titanosilicates currently uses particularly pure, and therefore expensive, reagents, which greatly increases their cost and limits their widespread use. We have developed an innovative technology to synthesise rare silicate minerals. Our project, within the framework of the Green Chemistry for Life programme, could be a starting point for the production of functional titanosilicate materials suitable for industrial use in the areas of radiochemistry, catalysis, medicine and sorption.”

The other winners will receive grants for further research on minimising atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions; recycling plastic waste for the production of new high-quality polymers; producing hydrogen – an alternative and clean source of energy – from water through an innovative process that mimics natural photosynthesis; and increasing the yield of crops that are important for humans, such as the habanero pepper in Mexico.

Manzano, whose research project focuses on finding an environmentally friendly and efficient method for recycling plastics, said: “The appearance of plastics revolutionised our lifestyle in the last century, but we have now reached a critical level in terms of the accumulation of plastic waste, which is having a devastating impact on the environment.

“There is an urgent need to develop new technologies that will make it possible to create a circular economy for plastics. Our project is aimed at developing new tandem catalytic methods for the chemical degradation of plastics. The process envisaged will make it possible to turn polymers into pure monomers, which could then be reused for the production of new high-quality plastics. The support provided by the Green Chemistry for Life grant will undoubtedly be very helpful in achieving these goals.”