Professor Robbie Burch, Head of the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
The opening of the Petronas Lab at QUILL
The world’s ‘standard of living’ cannot be maintained without advances in Chemistry. A liquid telescope on the moon and the creation of organic solvents to remove chewing gum from pavements, are just two examples of outcomes from a £15 million pound investment in the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering since the last RAE in 2001.
While global awareness of the need to conserve natural resources and cease pollution was not high on the public agenda in 2001, academics at Queen’s had the foresight to develop research in the area of green chemistry, creating new, environmentally friendly ways of making chemicals.
Professor Robbie Burch, Head of School for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen’s explained about the importance of the ongoing research in the School: “Chemicals impact on every aspect of our lives – clean ultralow sulphur diesel for cars, drugs and other pharmaceutical products, biodegradable plastics, new surface coatings to reduce friction and hence reduce energy consumption, new forms of energy conversion, and so on. Chemistry affects us every day and since our standard of living cannot be maintained without chemistry, we need to find new green ways to do chemistry in the 21st Century. This has been the driving force for the changes in Queen’s since the last RAE results in 2001.”
Queen’s has attracted much inward investment in the years since the last RAE, including £10 million from the Malaysian oil giant, Petronas, creating employment and further enhancing the reputation of Northern Ireland as a knowledge-based economy. Other global collaborations include the USA, Canada, China, Malaysia and Thailand as well as most of Europe.
Much of the work in green chemistry at Queen’s is based around ionic liquids and catalysis. Ionic liquids are salts that remain liquid at room temperature. They can act as solvents for a broad spectrum of chemical processes, do not emit vapours and are the basis of a whole new industrial technology. Catalysts, which are materials that speed up chemical reactions, will continue to be at the heart of the most important technology available for the manufacture of green chemicals.
Looking forward after the latest RAE results, Professor Burch continued: “We will see a step-change in the development of green chemistry in Queen’s. To join our own world-leaders in green chemistry, we will recruit others from around the globe in the engineering of green chemistry. These people will be able to take new concepts and ideas from the laboratory bench to the market place, creating spinout companies and further employment opportunities for our young people and others in Northern Ireland.
“We can currently claim to be among the best in the world for green chemistry. We also aim to be among the best for translating that chemical knowledge into profitable industrial opportunities.
“In practical terms, these include the biorefinery concept where new materials are fabricated from sustainable resources, and the generation and storage of renewable energy that is created from waste materials and biomass. These are very relevant to the local economy and they provide opportunities for us to lead Northern Ireland and the world into a sustainable and environmentally acceptable future.”
Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2006. It is also playing a significant role in the International Green Network which was initiated in 2005 by a leading group of G8 research ministers and science advisors. The United Kingdom’s Centre is located at Queen’s under the leadership of Professor Seddon who is also Vice-Director of the network.
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