by: Tiffany Sill
A sea of people flooding to the Red sea to go to COP27 this year is ironic since Egypt has recently been plagued with flooding of the Nile resulting from global climate change. locals talk about the snow they had experienced in Egypt, for the first time in their written history; describing it as horrifying to wake up to a blanket of white snow over their desert mountains.
So here we are, at COP27, to discuss the implementation of climate change mitigation strategies on a global scale. Each delegate from the American Chemical Society has their own focal point in the multitude of sessions offered from the country pavilions and plenary sessions. My own heart lies with materials solutions to implement decarbonization efforts on an industrial scale in hard-to-abate sectors such as transportation, building and construction, and energy storage.
Many of the pavilions have been hosting discussion sessions and presentations from top researchers in their field as a way to spread awareness on new and improved technologies and strategies for mitigation efforts. the Building Pavilion specifically had several extremely interesting discourse sessions regarding new concrete technologies that can mitigate emissions associated with production by roughly one third. In addition, the Japan Pavilion is hosting many of their industry titans such as Mitsubishi who also have a new zero-emissions concrete formula.
A single technology will not do the trick alone. And we certainly have a long way to go. But all the little dents these emerging technologies are making together can add up to a big difference. All-in-all it seems like if we can come together as the human race, then there is still some hope in avoiding a full-fledged climate catastrophe.
by: Yasmin Ajirniar
Last week, on Tuesday, September 23rd, French courts delivered a heavy blow to Dow France, one that cost 99 million euros in frozen assets. The action serves as a preventative measure, should the company attempt to move its money outside of the country prior its January trial in 2020. Workers and workers’ families who have been left uncompensated for damages caused by the product, Nemagon, have filed a lawsuit against Dow Chemical, the multi-national manufacturing parent company of Dow France.
First of all, although the workers rights are now being pursued in 2019, it is necessary to return to the 1970’s when Nemagon, a pesticide, was banned in the United States for the health risks it poses. However, large companies such as Dow Chemical which are headquartered in the United States, continued to produce and distribute the pesticide, particularly in South American countries. For example, in Nicaragua, thousands of banana farm workers were sterilized from using Nemagon.
In spite of legal action taken by the workers in Nicaragua, Dow Chemical refused to compensate the workers who were denied the right a family, a fundamental human right, claiming that the trial had been unfair towards the company. This was decades ago. Today in France, where a large share of Dow operations, Dow finances, and affected workers reside, the case has reappeared.
Dow Chemical is no stranger to French Courts which are known to undertake legal cases involved the rights of an individual. Two years ago, in 2017, products containing sulfoxaflor from Dow Chemical were questioned regarding their toxicity towards bees.
In consideration of the timing, location, and application of the ruling, the decision by the French courts in early 2020 will be significant, and it will be valuable to follow the progression of the lawsuit. How well will Dow France defend its case against the workers? According to European law, the precedent the court sets should apply across the European Union. What precedent will the court establish? And will it be actually be enforced outside French borders?
by: Yasmin Ajirniar
From mid-summer to late fall of 2015, the cosmopolitan city of Milan hosted the World Expo towards the northeast of its city center. There, the sleekest designs and most novel technology was featured to the theme of “Feeding the planet, Energy for life”. Regarding the non-traditional energy concerns, a collaboration between Merck and Belectric, called the solar trees, inhabited the German Pavilion; It was an installation that was not only symbolic in its design but also suggestive in its technological feat.
The large semi-transparent arching structures that captured the spirit of the “Field of Ideas” were erected from printed organic materials that could harvest electricity from solar energy. Most excitingly, the science of organic photovoltaics (OPVs) behind the World Expo spectacle is not too far away from being more widely incorporated.
Unlike silicon based solar cells, acceptor-donor polymers and small molecules such as fullerenes comprise the carbon-based systems of OPV’s such that they create a mobile electron and an electron hole—a free charge carrier. The cascade of events that lead to the free charge carrier begins with the absorption of a photon. Highly conjugated polymers then donate the resultant exciton, the electrostatically bound electron and electron hole, to a small molecule electron acceptor. In the process of transferring the electron, an energetic difference between the two materials splits the exciton; thus arriving at the free charge carrier.
Unfortunately, because the charge mobility of these systems is limited, the efficiency of OPV’s has not yet reached that of inorganic solar cells. While inorganic materials typically achieve an efficiency of 15-22%, organic materials were once reported, at most, to be 14%. However, within the last two years, an efficiency of 17.3% was reported by using new architectures, such as tandem cells (cells which split the range of the spectrum of incoming photons).
Inherent to the nature of the material, OPV’s do have a significant advantage over their counterparts such that the low cost and variety in synthetic techniques. For example, while, on average, traditional silicon solar cells cost 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, producing electricity from an OPV solar cell would cost 7 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to a BBC environmental correspondant's report in 2018. Further, greater tunability and diversity can be achieved in polymer synthesis. Because thiophenes have unique photochemical properties that lend themselves useful in the construction of organic solar cells, synthetic techniques, such as the Hinsberg Thiophene Ring Synthesis and use of Lawesson’s Reagent, are particularly relevant.
In addition, the facile incorporation of organic solar cells into existing infrastructure not only enables wider implementation but also reduces installation costs. Compare rooftop solar panels: since silicon based solar panels are so heavy that they require sufficient structural support from roofs, installing these panels, and perhaps installing new framework to withstand the added weight, can be very costly. However, with dyes and inks containing the absorbers and/or polymers, thin, lightweight organic panels can be printed, manipulated, and readily installed at a lower cost and disturbance to the existing structure.
A clear, or rather semi-transparent, demonstration of innovation, design, and practicality behind organic photovoltaics, the curved, patterned solar trees of the World Expo appropriately embody the “seedlings” that would grow and disseminate. While the exposition was a feat for the 2015 World Expo, it is probable and beneficial to pursue research, production, and integration of OPV solar cells. Although efficiency of organic systems has historically been less than that of inorganic systems, new architectures have increased their efficiency. And given the low cost of harvesting electricity, tunability, low weight, and high flexibility, the future of OPV’s looks promising.