Nav: Home

UCLA's James Liao receives Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award from EPA

June 21, 2010

James C. Liao, the Chancellor's Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, has been awarded the 2010 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The award promotes research on and development of less-hazardous alternative technologies that reduce or eliminate waste -- particularly hazardous waste -- in industrial production.

Liao, the first UCLA professor to receive the award in its 15-year history, is being recognized for his groundbreaking work recycling carbon dioxide for the biosynthesis of higher alcohols. This process turns CO2 -- a greenhouse gas produced by burning fossil fuels -- into products that can be used in alternative transportation fuels or chemical feedstock, reducing greenhouse emissions and providing for cleaner, greener energy worldwide.

In the last few years, Liao has received widespread attention for his work in developing methods for the production of more efficient biofuels by genetically modifying E. coli bacteria, and, most recently, for modifying cyanobacterium to consume CO2 to produce the liquid fuel isobutanol. The reaction is powered directly by energy from sunlight, through photosynthesis.

"The release of CO2 from the use of petroleum as a source of fuel and chemicals has contributed significantly to climate change in the past few decades," Liao said. "To alleviate this problem, it is essential to develop a renewable source to replace petroleum as the major chemical and energy source. I am honored that our work is being recognized with this award from the EPA."

Liao continues to be at the forefront of efforts to develop new methods for producing environmentally friendly biofuels and chemicals. Sponsored by KAITEKI Institute Inc. (TKI), the strategic arm of one of Japan's largest chemical companies, he and his team are researching ways to recycle and convert CO2 into chemicals that can be used to produce a variety of industrial products, including car bumpers, packaging materials, DVDs and even diapers.

"Bio-based chemicals and fuels are potentially carbon-neutral. However, their development has been hampered by a few obstacles," Liao said. "Our technology addresses the problems effectively and increases the range of alcohols that can be produced biologically. An independent review shows that our CO2-conversion technology compares very favorably to all other existing and more mature technologies."

In addition to his TKI sponsorship, Liao was awarded $4 million this May by the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to develop a method for converting carbon dioxide into liquid fuel isobutanol using electricity as the energy source instead of sunlight. The process would store electricity in fuels that can be used as high-octane gasoline substitutes.

The potential immediate impact of this research, Liao says, is that it would solve the electricity storage problem by converting electrical energy to liquid fuels that are fully compatible with the current infrastructure for distribution, storage and utilization. In the long run, the process could be extended to utilize solar energy via electricity or electron mediators to directly produce liquid fuel usable in internal combustion engines.

"Global climate change has heightened the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Jim's work will provide cleaner energy sources and change the world for the better," said Vijay K. Dhir, dean of UCLA Engineering. "We are proud of his significant accomplishments."

Over the past 15 years, the work of those honored with the EPA's Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award has led to the elimination of more than 1.3 billion pounds of hazardous chemicals and solvents, nearly 43 billion gallons of water, and about 450 million pounds of carbon dioxide.
-end-
The UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, established in 1945, offers 28 academic and professional degree programs, including an interdepartmental graduate degree program in biomedical engineering. Ranked among the top 10 engineering schools at public universities nationwide, the school is home to eight multimillion-dollar interdisciplinary research centers in wireless sensor systems, nanotechnology, nanomanufacturing and nanoelectronics, all funded by federal and private agencies.

For more news, visit the UCLA Newsroom and follow us on Twitter.

University of California - Los Angeles

Related Climate Change Articles:

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
Historical climate important for soil responses to future climate change
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, examined how 18 years of drought affect the billions of vital bacteria that are hidden in the soil beneath our feet.
Can forests save us from climate change?
Additional climate benefits through sustainable forest management will be modest and local rather than global.
From crystals to climate: 'Gold standard' timeline links flood basalts to climate change
Princeton geologists used tiny zircon crystals found in volcanic ash to rewrite the timeline for the eruptions of the Columbia River flood basalts, a series of massive lava flows that coincided with an ancient global warming period 16 million years ago.
Think pink for a better view of climate change
A new study says pink noise may be the key to separating out natural climate variability from climate change that is influenced by human activity.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab