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Aston University awarded grant to make research more sustainable

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

An Aston University scientist has won a $25000 grant in the AstraZeneca Open Innovation CoSolve sustainability challenge to help to make research more sustainable and environmentally friendly

Dr Vesna Najdanovic, senior lecturer in chemical engineering at the University’s Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI), successfully pitched her idea to explore a new method using ethyl lactate as a solvent.

Ethyl lactate is a biorenewable and environmentally friendly alternative solvent produced from lactic acid and ethanol, both obtained by fermentation of biomass. Currently hazardous organic solvents such as acetonitrile are widely used instead.

Dr Najdanovic won the AstraZeneca’s Open Innovation CoSolve Sustainability Challenge at the European laboratory research & innovation group (ELRIG) Research and Innovation meeting.

She said: “Throughout my research career, I have been working with various green solvents, such as supercritical fluids, ionic liquids and biosolvents, to improve chemical and separation processes.

“I am delighted to be selected by the expert judging panel and the highly engaged audience to apply my knowledge to develop greener analytical methods using ethyl lactate as a solvent for liquid chromatography.

“I hope this project will pave the pathway to use this environmentally friendly alternative solvent while reducing carbon footprint and pollution”.

The pharmaceutical industry generates the highest amount of waste per mass of products compared to other chemical industry sectors, such as the petroleum industry, bulk and fine chemicals.

Dr Kelly Gray, CoSolve sustainability programme lead at AstraZeneca, said: “In order to protect people, society and planet we have to identify and develop solutions to deliver sustainable science. The goal of the CoSolve sustainability programme was to do just that and identify innovative ideas to practical challenges faced by researchers across scientific disciplines in R&D.”

Sanj Kumar, CEO of ELRIG, said: “Ensuring that drug discovery processes become sustainable is a priority issue to the ELRIG community, so partnering with AstraZeneca on the CoSolve initiative, by hosting the pitching and final award ceremony, is not only an honour, but raises the awareness of sustainability to our community. Dr Najdanovic and her innovation are a worthy winner and ELRIG is proud that we are able to share her success story.”

As much as 80% of this waste presents hazardous organic solvents obtained from petrochemical sources.

For example, the pharmaceutical industry consumes 50% of globally produced acetonitrile, of which 20% is a solvent for liquid chromatography, a widely used analytical tool in research and development laboratories.

After its use, most acetonitrile is discarded as chemical waste and subsequently incinerated, generating greenhouse gases and other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and highly toxic hydrogen cyanide.

The CoSolve sustainability challenge award builds on Dr Najdanovic’s previous work employing ethyl lactate as a solvent for various separation processes. Her new project supports EBRI’s wider objectives of using bioproducts to deliver low-carbon and environmentally sustainable solutions.

Aston University touts new industrial CO2 measurement breakthrough

679 323 Stuart O'Brien

Researchers at Aston University are to take the UK a step nearer to net zero emissions by developing a better system of measuring industrial carbon dioxide.

The government is giving the University £100,000 to improve measurement of CO2 streams from sites such as at power plants and factories. The Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI) at Aston University is to develop a comprehensive guide based on industry and academic expertise.

Industrial decarbonisation will play a major role in achieving the UK’s 2050 ambitious net zero emissions target, however current measurement guidelines need to be improved.

The six-month project will be a collaboration between EBRI researchers and the company Progressive Energy and the Energy Institute. Progressive Energy will work alongside potential end-users and the Energy Institute will help to ensure the final guidelines are clear.

The work is being led by Dr Paula Blanco Sanchez, who has more than 15 years of experience in bioenergy. She said: “This funding will help Aston University to address a major gap in the decarbonisation pathway. It will contribute to the UK’s net zero target and is another example of how the University is using its expertise to tackle real world problems.

“Our experts in EBRI will provide research, industrial experience and knowledge in areas such as gas measurement, metric and analytics, life cycle and techno-economic assessments, and thermal conversion processes.”

The funding has been awarded by the Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC) to achieve the net zero ambition set out in the UK Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy (2021).

Bryony Livesey, challenge director, Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge, UKRI, said: “The announcement of this funding continues to build upon IDRIC’s whole system approach to decarbonising industry, enabling the UK to remain at the forefront of a global low-carbon future. These successful Wave 2 projects will build evidence on a range of areas from economics and emissions to skilled jobs and wider net zero policy, supporting UK’s green growth and net zero ambitions.”

It’s hoped the Aston University project will lead to future collaborations and funding to support UK industry to decarbonise their businesses.

In May, June and September the EBRI plant will be opening its doors to professionals who want to enhance their careers with a short hands-on course in Practical Process Engineering. For more information visit