Geoffrey Coates, Cornell professor of chemistry and chemical biology, has received the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award, which recognizes pioneering chemical technologies for pollution prevention.
Given by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the award highlights "scientific solutions to real-world environmental problems," according to the EPA. Coates was recognized in the academic category for developing a family of catalysts that convert carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide into polymers.
The technology Coates developed, his award description states, reduces the environmental threat of plastics. Virtually all plastics are derived from fossil fuels, and of the 150 million tons of plastics made each year worldwide, only a small fraction are recycled.
Carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide are ideal feedstocks for polymer synthesis, but the challenge lies in converting them into useful products efficiently. Coates' catalysts copolymerize carbon dioxide and epoxides into high-performance polycarbonates. Another class of his catalysts can insert one or two molecules of carbon monoxide into an epoxide ring to produce beta-lactones and succinic anhydrides, both of which have uses in synthesizing pharmaceuticals, chemicals and plastics.
His work forms the scientific foundation for the Ithaca-based startup company Novomer Inc. The company produces a range of products including can and coil coatings, adhesives, foams and plastics. The company is also developing a coating system that could replace bisphenol A (BPA) epoxy coatings that line most food and drink cans worldwide.
Coates was honored at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., June 18.