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Trost wins national "green chemistry" award

Barry M. Trost, the Job and Gertrud Tamaki Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, is the recipient of one of the 1998 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards. The awards, which were established "to recognize and promote fundamental and innovative chemical methods that accomplish pollution prevention through source reduction" are administered by the Environmental Protection Agency and are part of the Clinton/Gore administration's reinventing government program. The awards, which consist of a certificate and crystal sculpture, were presented on June 29 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

Trost was recognized for his work advancing the concept of "atom economy." The efficient use of atoms in commercial chemical processes can simultaneously reduce the amount of feedstocks that are used and the amount of waste that is produced. He has concentrated on the fine chemical industry, which includes pharmaceuticals and agricultural and specialty chemicals. In these value-added products, the cost of ingredients traditionally has been small, so the financial incentive for using them efficiently has been low. As a result, it typically takes between 25 to 100 tons of raw materials (except solvent) to produce a ton of finished pharmaceuticals, he says.

In recent years, however, the costs of disposing of chemical waste have risen dramatically, providing more incentive for reducing the amount of waste at the source. Since he first published his concept of atom economy in 1991, Trost and his students have developed several highly atom-efficient chemical processes that are capable of producing widely used intermediate chemical compounds with substantially less waste than those currently used by industry. One of the processes produces unsaturated carbonyl compounds that are widely used in making organic compounds. Another produces trisubstituted olefins, compounds widely found in insect pheromones. A third, which Trost says has attracted some commercial interest, produces a compound called vinyl glycidol, a key constituent in the protease inhibitors used to treat AIDS.


By David F. Salisbury

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