NYU scientist wins H&M Global Change award

A scientist from the NYU Tandon School of Engineering has proposed an environmentally sustainable method to produce a material like nylon, widely used in fashion industry and other commercial applications. The method eliminates oil from the equation and employs water, plant waste, and solar energy. The scientist has been selected for the Global Change Award.



 Miguel Modestino, from the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering, shares the 2017 Global Change Award of €250,000 ($267,000) with his co-researcher, Sophia Haussener of the École Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne. The award is given by the H&M Foundation. 
 
The Global Change challenge which attracted about 3,000 applicants this year aims to support innovations that can accelerate the shift to a circular and sustainable garment industry in order to protect the planet. The awards were presented in Stockholm, Sweden.
  
Currently, many types of fabrics, including nylon, are made in an energy-intensive, unsustainable process that uses fossil fuel. 
 
The researchers chose to focus on nylon because of its large market estimated to be more than six million tonnes per year at more than $20 billion. The new proposed process uses photovoltaic arrays, which generate electricity directly from the sun, to drive the electrochemical reduction of acrylonitrile (ACN) to adiponitrile (ADN) and hydrogen (H2), which will, in turn, be synthesised into hexanediamine (HDA), one of the existing precursors to nylon. 
 
Because ACN can be derived from plant waste, only sun, water, and carbon dioxide will be required as inputs. The new process represents a new scheme for carbon capture, in which greenhouse gases are bound into the fabric, rather than released into the air.
 
"It is gratifying to contribute toward a zero-emissions world. Once this process is tested and scaled up, there is the potential to expand the concept to other segments of the chemical industry, including the synthesis of substances like aluminum and chlorine," Modestino said.

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