Rick Laine recognized with EPA Green Chemistry Challenge Award

Laine's team has developed new ways to refine common agricultural waste such as rice hulls into materials that can be used in lithium-ion batteries and other products important for the transition to green energy.
Rick Laine recognized with EPA Green Chemistry Challenge Award

Professor Rick Laine

The EPA announced today that Professor Rick Laine and team have been selected to receive a 2023 Green Chemistry Challenge Award.

The Green Chemistry Challenge Awards promote the environmental and economic benefits of developing and using novel green chemistry. These prestigious annual awards recognize chemical technologies that incorporate the principles of green chemistry into chemical design, manufacture, and use.

“All of us benefit from advances in green chemistry as part of prevention pollution in communities, especially where residents continue to suffer from disproportionate levels of pollution,” said EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Deputy Assistant Administrator Jennie Romer. “Green chemistry can play a vital role in protecting human health and the environment by increasing efficiency, avoiding hazardous chemicals and preventing waste while improving the competitiveness of American companies.”

Laine is being recognized for developing a refining process that addresses the millions of tons of agricultural waste (e.g., rice hulls) burned for fuel value every year in the U.S. and worldwide. The resulting rice hull ash (RHA), which is often landfilled, can contain significant quantities of relatively pure nanocomposite mixtures of carbon and silica. Laine’s team has developed multiple ways of refining RHA first by washing with hydrochloric acid, then reacting the RHA with hexylene glycol base to produce spirosiloxane. Spirosiloxane can be distilled out directly, leaving silica-depleted RHA. Spirosiloxane can then be used to produce lithium-ion conducting polymers, which have potential for use in solid state batteries. Silicon-depleted RHA is being studied as promising lithium-ion capacitors and can be easily converted to SiC and Si2N2O as anodes for lithium-ion batteries with approximately three times the capacity of graphite/Li anodes used currently. These processes offer potential to supplant many of the energy, equipment and CO2-intensive processes involved in the traditional reduction of quartz with anthracite coal to produce Si metal, with production temperatures, energy requirements and carbon footprints much lower than those needed in current industrial processes.

Research should target resolution of a hard problem that has received a lot of attention but with little progress,” Laine explains. “If one spends time thinking and reading, incremental progress sometimes results. With enough time and thought (sometimes subconscious) one can realize a Eureka moment.’ We have been at this for 20+ years, and finally such a moment arrived. The problem solved was first explored almost 100 years ago…so solving it and being recognized for it is incredibly rewarding…but the Eureka moment was priceless.”

Those who contributed to this award-winning research include Michael Asuncion, Ph.D.; David Krug, Ph.D.; Vera PopovaJulien Marchal, Ph.D.Professor Joseph Furgal, Ph.D.; Eleni Temeche, Ph.D.; and Mengjie Yu.