Dr. Andrew Hunt, a senior researcher from the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York, spent 5 weeks in September and October 2016 promoting the importance of green chemistry and interdisciplinary sustainable science at the Department of Chemical Engineering, Khon Kaen University (KKU), Thailand.
“When I was invited by the Faculty of Engineering at KKU to come to visit Thailand to encourage the application of green and sustainable chemistry into chemical engineering, I was thrilled. I jumped at the chance to help inspire sustainable scientists in a part of the world in which green chemistry is still developing. I was fortunate enough to be able to deliver courses on aspects of green chemistry, catalysis, elemental sustainability and also scientific writing/literacy.”
A key workshop to undergraduate students at KKU was on the principles of green chemistry. This workshop was student directed and promoted the significance of working in teams to solve or formulate answers to problems. Although the students were aware of environmental issues related to the chemical industry, none had heard about the 12 principles of green chemistry or sustainability. “I was overwhelmed at how enthusiastic the students were to actively participate in presenting their thoughts on what the 12 principles of green chemistry should be! Many of the students were inspired by these principles and discovered the importance of applying them to their studies or research projects. In teams, the students then went on to develop their own 12 principles of green chemical engineering. I was really pleased that the students made this event a true success.”
Mr. Pongsakorn Nonsi, a 4th year student at KKU said “Over the past few weeks in KKU, Dr. Hunt taught us so many things, mostly about green chemistry. This is very important for us as chemical engineering students in order to gain the knowledge and understanding of catalysts and green chemistry. From what we have studied, we have learned the importance of green chemistry and elemental sustainability. This highlighted that it is important for the engineer to create processes to recover substances without releasing waste. Thank you so much for your time and experience that you shared with us, we really appreciated it and one day we hope we will meet again.”
This trip also helped develop a number of collaborations between Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York and the Department of Chemical Engineering, Khon Kaen University (KKU), Thailand. One such collaboration focusses on the use of supercritical carbon dioxide as a sustainable extraction technology to obtain waxes from tropical based agricultural residues. This builds on a current PhD being conducted at the University of York on rice straw biorefineries, sponsored by the Oil Refinery Contract Contribution Fund and the Ministry of Energy, Thailand. Such approaches to the extraction of valuable chemicals from waste biomass are already being applied in an EPSRC funded project, SusChemFeed.
Other research that was initiated during this trip includes the valorisation of food wastes to make chars, which are being tested as materials for water purification. These carbonaceous materials may also find use as part of a Horizon 2020 project called Porous4App. The use of specialised furnaces at the Department of Chemical Engineering, Khon Kaen University (KKU), could also lead to the development of new carbonaceous materials that may expand the range of applications for which current Starbons® (mesoporous materials developed at the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York) can be used for.
“I went to Thailand to inspire students to go green and form new collaborations but, I myself left feeling inspired. I feel honoured that I was able to help increase the popularity of science and promote green issues to a wonderful group of students. I see a promising future for green, sustainable and multidisciplinary research in Thailand and throughout Asia.”