On Thursday, February 21, GMC will welcome Professor Thomas Schwartz from the University of Maine Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering to speak on the the topic “Renewable Plastics, Biofuels, and the Energy Question: Evaluating Our Options for a Sustainable Future” starting at 4:10 p.m. in Dickgeisser Classroom (Griswold 1).
Professor Schwartz works in catalysis related to green chemistry and has been exploring new low-impact methods for manipulating organic compounds to produce useful products. In GMC Professor Jim Graves’ BIO II (Machinery of Life) class, students just finished a review of the chemistry of life, and are now learning about metabolic pathways. Professor Schwartz’s talk is of interest to will highlight ways in which chemistry can be applied in sustainable design and production and will be of particular interest to many GMC students in chemistry, applied environmental science, renewable energy and ecological design, as well as biology and various applied fields.
Increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere have led to an increase in the average temperature on Earth by approximately 1.8 °F, and this situation is starting to manifest itself in terms of observable impacts . While it is difficult to ascribe any individual meteorological event to Climate Change, the aggregate number of extreme weather events is on the rise , and this trend seems likely to continue. To avoid a climate catastrophe, a decrease in global CO2emissions is needed, yet developing economies increasingly desire access to the same energy-fueled technologies found in the developed world. Today the most easily-accessible forms of energy remain tied to fossil-based resources, although new technologies are driving down the cost of energy from renewable resources . To meet the targets of the Paris Climate Accord, further development of alternative energy technologies is needed such that the cost of energy obtained from renewable resources is lower than that obtained from fossil resources.
The sheer volume of sustainable energy technologies is overwhelming, and not all of these are scientifically viable. More than a few qualify as “perpetual motion machines” while others are carbon-positive rather than carbon-negative (that is, they release more CO2than would be released by simply burning fossil fuels). In this talk, we will highlight the magnitude of the problem and provide a framework in which to evaluate potential solutions. No single approach can possibly replace our dependence on fossil resources, but instead a constellation of new energy sources is needed, coupled with increased energy efficiency. Using examples from our research laboratory and the broader Green Chemistry community, we will show how the co-production of biobased materials (e.g., plastics, lubricants, dyes, cleaners, etc.) can lead to dramatic improvements in the viability of an energy economy driven by a mixture of biomass, wind, and solar resources. We will also address how these green technologies could be used to revitalize regional economies that traditionally rely heavily on forest products (i.e., Northern New England) and which have recently been impacted by the digital revolution.
Thomas J. Schwartz received Bachelor of Science degrees in Chemical Engineering and Biological Engineering from the University of Maine in 2010. While an undergraduate student at UMaine, he helped develop a process known as “Thermal Deoxygenation,” a patented, non-catalytic means of producing drop-in hydrocarbon fuels from biomass. Upon graduation from UMaine, he moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering under the supervision of Prof. Jim Dumesic. There, as an NSF Graduate Research Fellow, he studied heterogeneous catalysis and reaction kinetics, with research projects focusing on the design of catalytically active sites that can be used for the production of biobased chemicals via combinations of chemical and biological catalysis. In 2015, Dr. Schwartz joined the faculty in the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Maine, where he is also a cooperating faculty in the Department of Chemistry and is affiliated with the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute (FBRI) and the Frontier Institute for Research in Sensor Technologies (FIRST). His research group seeks to develop a molecular-level understanding of processes that occur on catalytic surfaces used for the conversion of carbon-based feedstocks (i.e., biomass, petroleum, and natural gas) to chemicals and fuels. Current research projects focus on the development of new monomers that can be obtained from biomass and the hydrogenolysis of C-Cl and C-O bonds. He is active in the ACS Division of Catalysis Science & Technology as well as the AIChE Catalysis and Reaction Engineering Division.
 World Meteorological Organization (2018).Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.
 European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (2013). Trends in extreme weather events in Europe: implications for national and European Union adaptation strategies. Policy report 22
 International Energy Agency (2019). World Energy Outlook.