The US Environmental Protection Agency has honoured Richard Wool with its Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for his extensive work in developing bio-based materials to support green energy infrastructure.
Wool, a professor of chemical and bimolecularengineering and director of the Affordable Composites from Renewables Resources (ACRES) program is a world leader in developing safer chemical substances from renewable resources through processes that require less water and energy and produce less hazardous waste compared to petroleum based processes.
The products can be used as adhesives, composites and foams – even circuit boards, hurricane resistant energy efficient roofs and leather substitutes.
Wool says, “Finding low toxicity replacements for commodity plastics such as polystyrene and PVC, adhesives, foams and composite resins, in addition to leather like materials, must be a priority if we are to benefit the environment and human health.
“I became critically aware of the issues surrounding waste management, recycling, climate change and the protection of our natural resources, and I began to wonder if there was a better way.”
This motivated Wool to incorporate green chemistry and green engineering solutions into his research. He created several high –performance materials using bio-based feedstocks, including vegetable oils, lignin, chicken feathers and flax. He has also signed a memorandum of understanding with South African government to further its development of bio-based township housing using the ACRES program.
One of Wool’s most recent inventions is a breathable, bio-based eco-leather that avoids the leather tanning process. This environmentally friendly product, developed as collaboration between the ACRES group and the University of Delaware’s fashion and apparel studies department has resulted in collaboration with well-known companies such as Nike and Puma.
“Ten years ago, green chemistry and engineering was a novel concept, but today, we are reaching a critical mass of individuals focused on sustainability and the environment. This award lends credibility to what we are doing and my hope is that it will cause some to give us a second look,” he concludes.