Richard Gross, NYU-Poly professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, is helping lead a team of researchers from eight universities to put an end to one of green tech’s worst ironies: Clean-energy technologies, meant to help preserve the planet, generally employ non-sustainable petroleum-based materials.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded Gross and his collaborators a Partnerships for International Research and Education grant for a program dubbed RENEW, or Renewable Energy NaturE’s Way, which is exploring ways in which biological-based materials can be used instead in the manufacture of turbine blades, solar panels, and other components for the clean-energy industry. Materials development and deployment is expected to take a minimum of five years.

In addition to the environmental benefits, as petroleum costs rise, there also may be economic advantages to using the biological-based polymers that Gross is developing. Because the new materials will be meticulously engineered, he expects their performance to be just as good—or even better—than those currently employed.

Gross founded and directs the NSF Industrial/University Cooperative Research Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing of Macromolecules at NYU-Poly. In 2003 he received the Presidential Green Chemistry award for his work on biocatalytic routes to polymers. A company he founded, SyntheZyme, recently graduated from the New York City Accelerator for a Clean Economy, the city’s premier clean-tech business incubator, operated by NYU-Poly and seeded by a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

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