Published 2019-07-10

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Mistra’s major green chemistry initiative

The target for Mistra’s new initiative is green chemistry. A consortium led by IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute will run the research programme, which focuses on the design process. Its research funding, SEK 70 million over four years, makes the programme Mistra’s largest initiative to date.

For several years, Mistra has been working to start a research programme on green chemistry to reduce the impact of chemicals on health and the environment. A call for proposals during the winter of 2018–19, which ended in March, yielded two applications. An international expert group led by Peter Pärt — a Swede who has worked at a high level in the EU, for many years, on research and chemicals issues — have assessed the competing programme proposals.

‘We received two highly qualified applications from different consortia. There were similar ideas in both proposals, but our expert group judged that the consortium including IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute was slightly superior. Overall, their proposal were a better fit with the criteria in the call,’ says Folkeson Welch at Mistra’s Secretariat.

Behind the winning programme proposal is a research consortium that, besides IVL Swedish Environmental Institute, includes KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm University, the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and the Swedish chemical industry, represented by Perstorp and Nouryon. Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) is also part of the consortium since Swetox, the Centre for Toxicological Sciences that was formed in the wake of Astra Zeneca’s closure of premises in Södertälje, is now part of RISE.

‘The research in toxicology and environmental toxicology will be an important resource for the programme. The initiative will gain  a great deal of knowledge based on experience from the pharmaceutical industry, where the tools include both laboratory experiments and computer models,’ says Folkeson Welch.

The programme, called Mistra SafeChem, will develop new chemicals. Already at the design stage, producers must try to minimise the impact of chemicals on the environment and people. The research will be based on a life-cycle perspective. Circularity and policy issues are also important for the programme, which will develop methods for efficient management of chemicals with catalytic systems, and also devise an approach for safe chemicals in the future.

The total budget is SEK 100 million over four years, of which Mistra will provide SEK 70m and participating organisations SEK 30m. This makes Mistra SafeChem the Foundation’s largest single programme investment to date. The Stockholm Resilience Centre received a larger amount of money at its start in 2007, Folkeson Welch notes, but this was about a centre formation.

‘The initiative is a clear sign that chemistry and handling of chemicals are important parts of Mistra’s environmental work going forward.’

The work is linked to several ongoing Mistra programmes, including Mistra Nanomaterials, Mistra STEPS (Sustainable Plastics and Transition Pathways) and Mistra TerraClean. Altogether, Mistra is ploughing hundreds of millions of kronor into these programmes. According to Folkeson Welch, with such large combined funding there are long-term prospects of creating a new centre of excellence or forming a new innovation platform.

‘Mistra encourages and contributes to greater research collaboration. But concrete initiatives, such as forming a centre of excellence, have to come from the programmes themselves.’

The earliest the new research programme, Mistra SafeChem, can start is year-end. Before the work can begin, Mistra must sign an agreement with the consortium and recruit some doctoral students.

FACTS: Mistra SafeChem — Mistra’s largest programme to date

Purpose: To use green chemistry to develop new chemicals, and minimise health and environmental impacts right from the design stage.

Participating organisations: IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm University, Technical University of Denmark (DTU), Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), Perstorp, Nouryon (formerly AkzoNobel Speciality Chemicals).

Budget: SEK 100 million, of which Mistra will provide SEK 70m.

Programme period: 2020–23.