Published on 02/05/2023
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Aston University wins grant to make research more sustainable and environmentally friendly
Dr Vesna Najdanovic

•    University awarded grant to develop more sustainable separation method  through AstraZeneca’s Open Innovation CoSolve Challenge at ELRIG
•    Dr Vesna Najdanovic will explore use of the solvent ethyl lactate
•    It is a biorenewable and environmentally friendly alternative.

An Aston University scientist has won a $25000 grant in the AstraZeneca Open Innovation CoSolve sustainability challenge to help to make research more sustainable and environmentally friendly
Dr Vesna Najdanovic, senior lecturer in chemical engineering at the University’s Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI), successfully pitched her idea to explore a new method using ethyl lactate as a solvent.

Ethyl lactate is a biorenewable and environmentally friendly alternative solvent produced from lactic acid and ethanol, both obtained by fermentation of biomass. Currently hazardous organic solvents such as acetonitrile are widely used instead.

Dr Najdanovic won the AstraZeneca’s Open Innovation CoSolve Sustainability Challenge at the European laboratory research & innovation group (ELRIG) Research and Innovation meeting.   

She said: “Throughout my research career, I have been working with various green solvents, such as supercritical fluids, ionic liquids and biosolvents, to improve chemical and separation processes. 

“I am delighted to be selected by the expert judging panel and the highly engaged audience to apply my knowledge to develop greener analytical methods using ethyl lactate as a solvent for liquid chromatography.
“I hope this project will pave the pathway to use this environmentally friendly alternative solvent while reducing carbon footprint and pollution”.

The pharmaceutical industry generates the highest amount of waste per mass of products compared to other chemical industry sectors, such as the petroleum industry, bulk and fine chemicals. 

Dr Kelly Gray, CoSolve sustainability programme lead at AstraZeneca, said “In order to protect people, society and planet we have to identify and develop solutions to deliver sustainable science. The goal of the CoSolve sustainability programme was to do just that and identify innovative ideas to practical challenges faced by researchers across scientific disciplines in R&D.” 

Sanj Kumar, CEO of ELRIG, said “Ensuring that drug discovery processes become sustainable is a priority issue to the ELRIG community, so partnering with AstraZeneca on the CoSolve initiative, by hosting the pitching and final award ceremony, is not only an honour, but raises the awareness of sustainability to our community. Dr Najdanovic and her innovation are a worthy winner and ELRIG is proud that we are able to share her success story.”

As much as 80% of this waste presents hazardous organic solvents obtained from petrochemical sources. 
For example, the pharmaceutical industry consumes 50% of globally produced acetonitrile, of which 20% is a solvent for liquid chromatography, a widely used analytical tool in research and development laboratories. 

After its use, most acetonitrile is discarded as chemical waste and subsequently incinerated, generating greenhouse gases and other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and highly toxic hydrogen cyanide.

The CoSolve sustainability challenge award builds on Dr Najdanovic’s previous work employing ethyl lactate as a solvent for various separation processes. Her new project supports EBRI’s wider objectives of using bioproducts to deliver low-carbon and environmentally sustainable solutions.

Notes to editors

About Aston University
Founded in 1895 and a university since 1966, Aston University is a long-established university led by its three main beneficiary groups – students, business and the professions, and the West Midlands region and wider society. Located in Birmingham at the heart of a vibrant city, the campus houses all the University’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Aleks Subic is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.
In 2022 Aston University was ranked in the top 25 of the Guardian University Guide, based on measures including entry standards, student satisfaction, research quality and graduate prospects. The Aston Business School MBA programme was ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking.
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