The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has awarded grants for research in the field of green chemistry to leading young scientists from around the world in conjunction with PhosAgro Group and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).
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 Qu; Peggy 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; Professor Pietro Tundo of Ca' Foscari University of Venice, UNESCO Chair on Green Chemistry and Chair of the IUPAC Green Chemistry and Sustainable Development Committee; John Corish, Chair of the International Scientific Jury for the Green Chemistry for Life project and a professor at the School of Chemistry at Trinity College, University of Dublin; Nicole Moreau, Chair of the Scientific Board of UNESCO’s International Basic Sciences programme; and Andrey A. Guryev, PhosAgro CEO and a member of the Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO.
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 Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America having already received grants.
Ms 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 Ms 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 Ms 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.
Mr 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.”
Mr Sajib proposed a very interesting idea for the development of multifunctional enzymes for processing lignocellulosic wastes into biofuels, which could help overcome the energy crisis and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in several developing countries. Ms Gaber intends to use nanotechnology to extract a substance from algae that are harmful in open bodies of water for the diagnosis and treatment of liver cancer.
While awarding the grant winners, UNESCO’s Dr Nair-Bedouelle recalled that the Green Chemistry for Life programme has an important mission: to promote the ethical principles on which the scientific progress of humankind should be based.
“The programme run by UNESCO, IUPAC and PhosAgro motivates young scientists to develop green technologies for the management and recycling of natural resources. Together, we are spreading values that guarantee that science serves the common good: the sustainable development of the planet.”
In his speech at the official awards ceremony, PhosAgro CEO Andrey A. Guryev noted that the awarding of grants at UNESCO headquarters on World Science Day for Peace and Development highlights the important status of the grant programme. “Support for the Green Chemistry for Life programme is in line with our deeply held conviction that business has a key role to play in ensuring sustainable development. A commitment to sustainable development is one of the priorities of our long-term development strategy, and, at the level of our Board of Directors Sustainable Development Committee, we are integrating the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into all of PhosAgro’s business processes.”
This is supported by PhosAgro attaining the LEAD status within the UN Global Compact, where PhosAgro was identified among the most active companies, in this platform for socially responsible business, that are making the most significant contributions to achieving the SDGs.
In addition, PhosAgro, whose fertilizers are free from concentrations of heavy metals (meaning they are safe for crop production and do not lead to soil pollution), together with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), partnered in supporting a global network of soil laboratories that are going to evaluate the quality and safety of fertilizers and monitor soil health. PhosAgro and the FAO are also training farmers in state-of-the-art agricultural technologies, the proper use of land resources and the application of fertilizer.
“The global challenges facing humanity require a global response”, said PhosAgro’s CEO. “May the Green Chemistry for Life programme be an example of the joint efforts of business, science, government and international organisations for the well-being of future generations.”
In view of the widespread recognition of the success of the programme, the parties agreed in February of this year to extend it until 2022. This means that PhosAgro’s contribution to the project from 2013 to 2022 will amount to almost USD 2.5 million. This is the first project in the history of UNESCO and the UN financed by Russian business.