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Greening and Cleaning the Pharmaceutical Industry

Working under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants of more than $200,000, Rowan University's College of Engineering (Glassboro, N.J.) is expanding its work in “green engineering” with several regional pharmaceutical companies.

Green engineering is the design, commercialization and use of processes and products that are feasible and economical while minimizing the generation of pollution and risk to human health and the environment.

Led by project director Dr. C. Stewart Slater, a Rowan chemical engineering professor, with co-directors and chemical engineering professors Drs. Mariano Savelski, Brian Lefebvre and Robert Hesketh, the project team is composed of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students from Rowan and engineers from pharmaceutical firms.

In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY), Novartis (NYSE: NVS), and another with whom the University is negotiating, a Rowan chemical engineering clinic team is developing green engineering designs and practices to test within these companies. This project has received $132,967 from the EPA.

According to Dr. Thomas J. Blacklock, vice president of Chemical and Analytical Development at Novartis, the project the Rowan faculty and students have been working on is proceeding smoothly, and the EPA grant will enable further progress in this important area.

“There are environmental issues everywhere,” Blacklock said. “The cost of raw materials is increasing rapidly as they are mostly linked to petroleum. Responsible waste disposal is often more costly than the raw materials. Anything we can do to reduce waste and increase efficiency makes good environmental and economic sense. This is the essence of green.” Blacklock believes Rowan University’s College of Engineering, with its many talented students and faculty, “has a very bright future.”

The work is a continuation of other efforts by Rowan chemical engineering students and faculty. A 2005 EPA grant of $26,813 funded a partnership between Rowan Engineering and Bristol-Myers Squibb to study drug process improvements and develop a solvent selection software tool. This collaboration continues with the new grant.

“The students working with Bristol-Myers Squibb are looking at advanced membrane technology for solvent recovery from waste streams in a cancer drug process,” Slater said. “Typically, the amount of solvent used to manufacture a drug is more than 100 times the weight of the actual medicine itself. Rowan is investigating the potential to integrate pervaporation membrane systems into the production operation.”

Pervaporation membrane systems act like advanced filtration systems to separate chemicals or organic solvents from water. An example involves purifying a waste solvent from a manufacturing step that normally would be disposed of by incineration, a move that could save money and reduce carbon dioxide emissions since energy is not required to make fresh solvent.

“The solvent pervaporation project can be viewed as broadly applicable to green processing practices in the pharmaceutical industry overall,” said Dr. Lori Spangler, principal scientist, Bristol-Myers Squibb. “It is more than just analyzing one specific project. Many projects require the use of dry solvents and or the drying of process streams. This project may provide generally applicable tools and technologies that can be used on many processes.”

Because of their leadership as change agents in the field, the Rowan team members presented their work at the Green Chemistry and Engineering conference in Washington, D.C., in June.

And, Savelski and Slater have been appointed by the EPA to a Pharmaceutical Sector Stewardship steering committee to help identify pollution prevention challenges and opportunities in pharmaceutical manufacture. They are planning to present at an EPA seminar in New York City on some of their approaches to partnerships between university and industry in advancing green manufacturing strategies.

Rowan faculty also will chair a topical conference at the 2008 American Institute of Chemical Engineers annual meeting to be held in Philadelphia. They currently are working with engineers from GlaxoSmithKline, of King of Prussia, Pa., and Johnson & Johnson, of New Brunswick, in planning the sessions. According to Savelski, “This forum will allow the exchange of new concepts and ideas between the stakeholders from industry, academia and government.” The EPA awarded this project $75,000.

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