EcoChem Diary

Day 0: Settting up

This week I’m at the EcoChem trade show and conference on green & sustainable chemistry, being held in Basel, Switzerland. The University of Nottingham are sending a team of us out there to showcase our research in this area, which is broader than you might first think.  Our team encompasses researchers from chemistry, engineering and the bio-, pharmaceutical and food sciences, covering technologies such as supercritical fluids, ionic liquids, biofuels, enzymatic catalysis, microwave heating and analytical chemistry.

I’ve been responsible for coordinating the visit, alongside Dr Andy Wells (pictured below) including putting together an exhibition stand. For this, I must thank our designers, theoneoff, who created the artwork we have used.   Below is a photo taken half-way during set-up, I hope to have time to put some better photos up during the week when the stand is “in action.”

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After we finished setting up the stand, I had a chance to have a quick wander around Basel. The Rathaus, see below, is particularly impressive and worth a visit even for a short look if you are in the area.

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Day 1

First day of the conference proper now over. Busy time at the University of Nottingham stand (see below) as we have so far had interest from a wide range of delegates, including company reps, academics, journalists, students and professional bodies.  Queries were equally varied, many just wanted to know what we were doing, others had specific technical questions or were interested in how our research relates to our teaching and educational programmes. The new Carbon Neutral Laboratory has so far attracted particular interest. Overall I think we are getting the message across that Nottingham has a broad approach to sustainability, which includes a many technical disciplines and strategic approaches. We have also been filmed by the conference marketing team, with Professor Steve Howdle giving a 2 minute interview (Steve also gave a talk on his work with polymers and supercritical carbon dioxide).

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The conference has a very different feel to a traditional academic conference.  Certainly the bigger number of corporate stands and greater industrial representation is a new experience for me. As happy as I am with our stand, it does pale in comparison to our neighbours from versalis-eni. Their stands includes a coffee bar (barista included), air-conditioned meeting room, networking area, glass display cabinets… My photo below doesn’t do it justice, and only covers about a quarter of their total stand (but does show the coffee bar!).

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Day 2 today and I hope to be able to go to a few talks during the quiet times between when the exhibition is open. Two speakers from Nottingham- Professor Ed Lester and PhD student Amy Goddard who is in a special u35 session.

Day 2

Another busy day, with plenty of interest at the stand and I was actually able to go to a few talks and speak to people at other stands too. It was a pleasure to meet Nuno from Your Formula, who is keen to expand its network of young European-based scientists interested in sustainability. I also had an interesting meeting with a new spin-out company, Berlin-based Dexlechem and learn about their approach to make chiral catalysts recyclable.

The four talks I went to were very varied, covering biotechnology, plastics, carbon capture and consumer goods. Hans-Peter Meyer, Lonza, looked into the future for industrial biotechneology, predicting that by 2020 IB routes would manufacture 20% of all chemicals (and 60% of fine chemicals).  Monica Ulcnik-Krump, Alba Group, described her company’s approach to plastic up-cycling and Abhilash Menon, Sulzer, explained how they offer CCS pilot- and demo-plant facilities. It was refreshing to see a CCS talk at a green chemistry conference as its not a commonly covered topic. Finally, Amy Goddard, a PhD-student joint between Nottingham and Croda, spoke in the under-35 session on green materials manufacturing and the REFINE project. I know the EcoChem organisers are keen to attract more younger scientists to future EcoChem events and younger speaker sessions are one way to do so.  They have a bit of work to do, though, as most of the delegates are older (and male), but perhaps this reflects the community they are representing.

Day 3

All wrapped up, packed up and shipped off… The University of Nottingham has done Ecochem 2013 and hopefully successfully showcased its research in sustainable chemical and biological processing.  Its been an enjoyable week with plenty of chances to have  interesting discussions with other delegates, make new friends and connections and learn about some cutting edge science.

I was pleased that it wasn’t just the traditional chemical, biotech and pharma companies that were represented at Ecochem. Nike, Levi Strauss, Coca-Cola, Nestle and BP were among some of the big multinationals that sent delegates to Basel. “Closing the loop” was a term I heard repeated several times. Some argue big corporations show only lip-service to sustainability for the purpose of “green-washing” their less acceptable sides. However, presence at conferences like these suggest there is weight behind their public proclamations.

Ecochem is coming back in 2014 and the organisers hope it will be bigger and better. What can they do to achieve their aim? Perhaps more University involvement- only York and ourselves exhibited at the show and their was a limited number of academic speakers and delegates. More young people too and greater involvement of the broader press and public would also enhance Ecochem’s breadth and impact. Finding the balance between an academic conference and an industrial tradeshow will not be easy, but its a worthy target.

This post is an amalgamation of four entries I posted during the conference, which have now been deleted.

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