2 Minutes with Philip Jessop
December 12, 2011
Many manufacturing processes use harmful chemicals that pollute the environment along the way to producing a final product. Dr. Philip Jessop is a professor with the Department of Chemistry at Queen's University who is using Green Chemistry to create new processes that eliminate pollution and save manufacturer's money.
Well, I always wanted to help the environment. You know, I love the environment. I like camping. I do wildlife photography as a hobby and so the environment's very important to me and of course it's important to many other people too. But I love chemistry. And a great way to combine them is to use my knowledge of chemistry to help the environment. So green chemistry's all about that.
So what I'm doing right now is working on solvents. If you take a look at organic solvents, people would normally be familiar with acetone, nail polish remover and turpentine for, you know, getting paint off things where paint shouldn't have been. Those are organic solvents. And they're smelly, they're flammable, all those kinds of things. Industry uses volatile organic solvents like that all the time because they're easy to remove afterwards. Once you've done whatever it was you were doing with your solvent, you can distill it off, evaporate it off and that's easy.
And so I figure if we could find a way to remove solvent from the product without using distillation or evaporation, then suddenly you could use a solvent that's not volatile. It wouldn't be flammable. It wouldn't have inhalation risks. It wouldn't cause smog, etc.
What I do is I use waste CO2, carbon dioxide from like power plants or beer manufacture, take this waste CO2 and I use it to change my solvent. In other words, the solvent at the beginning wants to be with the product and it's doing whatever it needs to do for the process. And then using CO2, this waste CO2, I change the solvent so now it doesn't want to be with the product anymore. And it comes apart, away from the product. And then the CO2 gets recycled again, the solvent gets recycled and the product can be sold all without ever using a volatile solvent.
So we're looking at plastics recycling. There's a bunch of plastics that commonly don't go into the blue box recycling bin because they're not recyclable. Using our technology, they can be recyclable. We're also looking at maybe applications in the oil sands to try and get rid of the tailings ponds problem and there's a whole bunch of other ways that industry can use this. And companies have been very excited about it and very supportive.
NSERC made it possible. NSERC's Discovery Grant system is not rigid, it's flexible. So when you hit something wonderful like this, you can pursue it without feeling guilty about not doing exactly what you said you were going to do from the beginning.
I enjoy working with the students. I think in terms of, you know, day-to-day fun, enjoyment of my job, that's the best part. Teaching the students, helping them to see the importance of helping the environment, helping them learn how to modify chemistry so it's less damaging and then when they go off and become decision makers in government or industry, or wherever they end up, they'll be carrying on that job long past the time when I'm able to continue that task.