Sherwin-Williams' Paint Made from Plastic Bottles and Soy Nets EPA Award

Sherwin-Williams' water-based paint made from recycled bottles and soybeans, and two companies making safer chemical building blocks are among those being recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA's 2011 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards are the 16th iteration of the effort, which promotes chemical technologies that reduce pollution, lower or eliminate waste, and result in safer and more sustainable chemicals, processes and products.

All in all, the program has given out 82 awards out of the 1,400 nominations submitted over the years.

"For too long, chemicals in commerce in the United States have gone under-regulated, which has provided little to no incentive for companies (to make safer chemicals)," said Ansje Miller, the eastern state director for the Center for Environmental Health. "I think the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards is a step in the right direction to create a positive incentive."

But, she added, things like awards need to be coupled with reform of the country's chemicals laws, such as the push to change the Toxics Substances Control Act so that companies need to test chemicals for safety before they are put on the marketplace.

"I don't think we're going to see toxics come off the market altogether through something like an awards program," Miller said. "Green chemistry is a nascent field, so as much as we can do to encourage that field, I support."

Sherwin-Williams was awarded for its water-based acrylic alkyd technology being used in some commercial and architectural paints. Alkyd paints are commonly made from oil and emit high levels of volatile organic compounds. The technology being used by Sherwin-Williams results in low-VOC, water-based paints that are made from recycled plastic bottles and soybean oil.

Since launching three paints using the technology in 2010, the company says it avoided the emission of more than 800,000 pounds of VOCs, and avoided the use of 1,000 barrels of oil by instead using 250,000 pounds of PET plastic and 320,000 pounds of soybean oil.

While Sherwin-Williams was awarded for cleaning up its own products, two other companies were recognized for efforts that could have wider-ranging impacts on a range of chemicals and products.

Genomatica received an award for its work on a bio-based version of building block chemical 1,4-Butanediol (BDO), which we've covered previously. BDO is used in spandex, automotive plastics and other common products. Instead of making BDO from petroleum, Genomatica produces it with genetically-engineered microbes that create the chemical by fermenting sugars.

The company says its process at the commercial scale, expected to be up and running in 2012, will use 60 percent less energy and result in 70 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions than BDO made from natural gas, along with reducing byproducts and costing 15-30 percent less to produce.

BioAmber, another awardee, makes succinic acid, a starting molecule for the creation of other chemicals, out of E. coli instead of petroleum. The company has been producing succinic acid since early 2010 through bacterial fermentation of glucose with an E. coli biocatalyst licensed from the Department of Energy. 

The process uses 60 percent less energy and costs 40 percent less to make than succinic acid made from petroleum.

The final award for companies went to Kraton Performance Polymers for its NEXARTM polymer membrane technology. The membranes are used for purifying salt water by reverse osmosis. Kraton's membranes are made using less solvent and can be used to purify hundreds of times more water than traditional membranes while halving energy costs and cutting membrane expenses by 70 percent.

The academic award went to Bruce Lipshutz, of the University of California, Santa Barbara for designing a surfactant that allows water to replace organic solvents, which are used in most chemical manufacturing processes and are volatile, toxic, flammable and end up as waste. Lipshutz's surfactant forms small droplets in water, and organic chemicals can dissolve in and react in them, eliminating the need for organic solvents.

Paint roller image CC-licensed by Maggiejumps/Flickr