Sustainable Chemistry - Catalytic Transformations of Renewable Resources to Fine Chemicals and Biologically Active Compounds

Current technology, industrial and energy production relies to a large extend on non-renewable resources. Peak oil production has been reached, which illustrates the limited perspective of the current technological and scientific solutions that society demands. With the strong economic growth of some Asian nations and their high demand of energy and non-renewable raw materials, the situation is becoming more dramatic. Sustainable technologies must be developed within the next 50 years to overcome this threatening problem and allow participation of all nations in the technological progress providing better conditions of living and health.

The key to more sustainable technologies is in many cases chemistry, the science of materials and their conversion. Using existing resources more efficiently or, even better, replacing them by renewable resources, are successful strategies to achieve more sustainability. The production of basic chemicals from agricultural products, the atalytic detoxification of waste or the development of safer chemicals are examples. Now, the application of sustainability concepts to all areas of chemical and energy production is an urgent global quest, which can only be achieved with a skilled scientific workforce well aware of the concepts of sustainable chemistry. Sustainability starts right at the invention or development of a new technique. Attempts to improve non-sustainable technologies at a later stage (end of pipe concept) are ecologically and economically less suitable.

Sustainable chemistry-based products reach far beyond chemicals and chemical production. Nearly all areas of manufacturing and production use chemical products: dyes, glues, emulsifying agents, stabilizers, preservatives, chemicals for electronics and fertilizers are only a few examples. Sustainable chemistry therefore reaches all aspects of our daily life and all areas of society. Another important aspect is s ustainability in drug design and animal health. We monitor increasing amounts of steroids and antibiotic metabolites in the environment leading to human health problems and dangerous bacterial resistance. "End of pipe" technologies (waste water, waste air filters) as applied to reduce environmental damage of old technologies provide no solution of this treat. Only by a clever design on the molecular level of chemicals that after use will degrade fast and safe in the environment the problem can be overcome.

Concepts of sustainable chemistry must therefore become an integral part of the curricula of leading higher education institutions in the area of chemistry in India and Germany with strong chemistry related economic activity. For this the awareness of this issue among young researchers must be increased.

The research activities within the INDIGO PhD-net will focus on one aspect of a more sustainable chemistry: The development of new methods for the efficient catalytic conversion of renewable resources, such as carbohydrates, lipids, amino acids or steroids, into fine chemicals and biologically active compounds. The teaching program of the PhD net will cover a broader range of topics of sustainable chemistry: Modern techniques in synthesis, measures to determine efficiency or regulatory aspects, such as REACH.

Curriculum of the PhD program

Project research: Indian students join the INDIGO PhD program after successful completion of their first year at one of the Indian partner institution, which consists of only coursework. The research work of all participating students is based on individual projects that relate to the overall research profile of the PhD network. The individual research activities and their results are the major and key component of the PhD work. At a time that fits best the requirements of the individual research projects of the PhD student, a six-month project research stay at one of the German partners is scheduled. To minimize travel expenses the six-month project research stay is, if possible, combined with the network research and short course meeting in Germany or the industrial internship.

German PhD students join the INDIGO PhD net in the first year of their PhD studies. Again, a six-month research project stay at one of the Indian partner institutions is scheduled to fit the individual research activities.

The necessary PhD regulations (Promotionsordnung) at the University of Regensburg are already in place to award Indian students, who have spent six months at the University of Regensburg, and submit a thesis covering research results from their work in Germany and India, a double PhD degree. Indian PhD students submit their thesis at the Indian and the German institutions; referees and examiners of both institutions participate in the evaluation of the thesis and the defence. An individual dual degree document (individualisiertes Doppelpromotionsabkommen) is agreed on at the beginning of the Ph.D. work. The document defines the lengths of research work abroad and participation in coursework and networks activities before submission of the thesis.

Coursework: During their stay abroad Indian and German PhD students attend to one class (2 hours a week = 2 SWS) offered by their host institution with relation to the networks overall topic.

Available classes at the IISC Bangalore: Structure and Reactivity in Organic Chemistry, Chemistry of Biological Systems, Advanced Organic Synthesis, Molecular Spectroscopy and Structure.

Available classes at the German institutions: Reactive Intermediates: Metal-organic compounds and catalysis, Organocatalysis, Planning of efficient organic synthesis.

In addition students are actively participating in the group seminar (2 SWS) of their chosen research group and in departmental seminars in which the have to give at least once a presentation of their work. These presentations will be made available on the internal web pages of the network to allow a close monitoring of the ongoing research activities within INDIGO.

All Indian and German students of the INDIGO network participate once in the intercultural training workshop (one weekend), which is offered annually by the foreign affairs office (akademisches Auslandsamt) of the University of Regensburg. The network covers the participation fee. The intercultural training will help both sides to understand the different cultural backgrounds better.

PhD research conference: A central part of the network's teaching curriculum is an annual research and short course meeting, which is held in India or Germany annually alternating. During their PhD students should attend two of such events. The meetings consist of a three day scientific conference, where the PhD students report on their results giving oral presentations and posters. The organization of the conference is done by the PhD students with support by the administrative coordinator. The students invite two external speakers, BASF scientists and the members of the senior advisory board to the events. Supervisors should attend, if possible, as well. The event provides a platform for intensive scientific exchange and at the same time an intensive training in scientific presentation and discourse. The presence of the industrial and the senior scientists gives the PhD students the opportunity to learn from their experience. If held in India, an Indian PhD student will be the chairman of the conference, a German PhD student his/her vice chairman. If held in German, a German student takes the lead assisted by an Indian colleague.

One week intensive course: The scientific PhD-Net conference is followed by a one week intensive course, which is arranged by the coordinator of the network. The short course is given by invited faculty of scientists from academia and industry and addresses various aspects of sustainable chemistry. Typical topics for classes are:

  • Basic concepts of sustainable chemistry
  • Efficiency in chemical synthesis
  • Chemical problem solving
  • Environmental analytical chemistry
  • While every short course focuses on certain topics, most of the following skill areas and techniques will be covered. This ensures that all PhD participating in the program receive an education that covers aspects of sustainable chemistry beyond their individual research project work. The training they receive on the short courses will be useful for their industrial and academic careers.

    Important knowledge and skill areas of sustainable chemistry:

  • Molecular structure to property relationships
  • Methods of efficient synthesis (catalytic processes; atom efficiency)
  • Evaluation and measuring efficiency and sustainability of chemical processes
  • Retrieving and handling toxicological and ecotoxicological data
  • Chemistry based on renewable resources from agricultural products
  • Analytical monitoring methods
  • Social and economic aspects of sustainability
  • Important techniques:

  • Ecoefficiency analysis
  • Gas-chromatography; High performance liquid chromatography
  • Toxicological testing
  • Laboratory synthesis using homogeneous catalysts
  • Duration: Duration of the student exchange is 6 months. After the exchange the students partcipate in an industrial internship of approx. 8 weeks.

    Degree awarded: Dual PhD Degree in Chemistry between

  • the University of Regensburg or TU Munich
  • and one of the participating Indian Institutes
  • Eligibility: Indian students join the INDIGO PhD program after successful completion of their first year at one of the Indian partner institution, which consists of only coursework. German PhD students join the INDIGO PhD net in the first year of their PhD studies.