John Warner

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Green Chemistry: Inventing a Circular Economy

John C. Warner, Senior Vice President, Chemistry, Zymergen Corporation

Abstract: The natural world is a beautiful and intricate system of intertwined and overlapping materials ecosystems. As humans, our understanding of the various interrelationships is only at the most basic level. One important reason why these naturally interdependent cyclic systems exist with exquisite complexity is because of the very fact that they all co-emerged over hundreds of thousands of years in the presence of one another. Evolutionary forces drove symbiotic relationships by selecting for and against mechanisms and materials that were conducive to the success of the entire multi-component matrix. As human society seeks to create a circular economy, we unfortunately have the disadvantage that our various industrial “species” have developed with a level of independence, essentially unaware of adjacent processes. We are forced into a position of creating connectivity’s that were not part of the considerations in the original design. Obviously, this creates a daunting challenge. While there have been some examples of the circular economy designed and deployed in many industrial settings, the vast majority of industrial products and processes continue to exist disconnected and unsustainable over the long run. The pathway to create most of these technological ecosystems will require the inventive application of green chemistry (the molecular level mechanistic underpinnings of sustainability). This presentation will describe examples of how organizations seeking a circular strategy benefit from integrating the principles of green chemistry with product design, manufacturing and supply chain management.

Biography: John is a senior vice president of chemistry and distinguished research fellow at the Zymergen Corporation where he is helping to design and create commercial technologies inspired from nature consistent with the principles of green chemistry. With over 300 patents, he has invented solutions for dozens of multinational corporations. His inventions have also served as the basis for several new companies. Examples include: Collaborative Medicinal Development (ALS therapy), Hairprint (hair color restoration), Collaborative Aggregates (asphalt warm mix rejuvenators), Ambient Photonics (lowlight indoor photovoltaic devices for IoT and BIPV).

He is one of the cofounders of the field of green chemistry, coauthoring the defining text and articulating the 12 principles of green chemistry with Paul Anastas. John has over 100 publications providing foundational work in the fields of noncovalent derivatization, polymer photochemistry, metal oxide semiconductors and synthetic organic chemistry. John has received prestigious awards as an academic (PAESMEM – President G. W. Bush & NSF, 2004), industrial chemist (Perkin Medal – Society of Chemical Industry, 2014), inventor (Lemelson Ambassadorship – Lemelson Foundation & AAAS) and for governmental chemicals policy (Reinventing Government National Performance Review – Vice President A. Gore & EPA, 1997). He received the American Institute of Chemistry's Northeast Division's Distinguished Chemist of the Year for 2002 and the Council of Science Society President’s 2008 Leadership award. Warner was named by ICI Services as one of the most influential people impacting the global chemical industries. In 2011 he was elected a Fellow of the American Chemical Society and named one of “25 Visionaries Changing the World” by Utne Reader. He serves as Distinguished Professor of Green Chemistry at Monash University in Australia. He serves as the Global Chair for the Center for Sustainable and Circular Technologies at the University of Bath. In 2017 the German Ministry of Economic Affairs and The Technical University of Berlin announced the naming of “The John Warner Center for Green Chemistry Start-Ups” in his honor.

John received his BS in Chemistry from UMASS Boston, and his PhD in Chemistry from Princeton University. After working at the Polaroid Corporation for nearly a decade, he then served as tenured full professor at UMASS Boston and Lowell (Chemistry and Plastics Engineering). In 2007 he founded the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, with Jim Babcock (a research organization developing green chemistry technologies), and Beyond Benign with Amy Cannon (a non-profit dedicated to sustainability and green chemistry education). He now advises several international organizations and in 2020 began working with the Zymergen Corporation.

Selected Honors and Awards:

  • “Jean Dreyfus Lectureship” Southern California Conference on Undergraduate Research. 2019
  • “Doris and Kenneth Kolb Chemistry Lecture” Bradley University 2019
  • “The John Warner Center for Green Chemistry Startups” German Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Technical University of Berlin 2017
  • “Harry & Carol Mosher Award” – ACS Silicon Valley 2016
  • “AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambasador” AAAS and Lemelson Foundation 2016
  • “Eminent Scientist Lecture” American Chemical Society 2015
  • “Massachusetts State Senate Recognition” Senator Bruce Tarr 2014
  • “Special Congressional Recognition” Congressman John Tierney 2014
  • “The Perkin Medal” Chemistry Industry Society 2014
  • “Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry” Elected 2014
  • “Grace Van DerVoort Lecturship” Sage Colleges, 2013.
  • “The Marple-Schweitzer Lectureship” Northwestern University, 2013
  • “Jean Dreyfus Boissevain Lectureship” Eastern Michigan University, 2013
  • “Henry A. Lardy Distinguished Lectureship”, South Dakota State University, 2013
  • “Henry Maso Award” Society of Cosmetic Chemistry, 2012
  • “Dow Sustainable Chemistry Lectureship”, Colorado State University, 2012
  • “One of 25 Visionaries Changing the World”, Utne Reader, 2012
  • “Fellow of the American Chemical Society” Elected 2011.
  • “Environmental Merit Award” United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2011
  • “GSA Chemistry Lectureship”, University of Cinncinnatti, 2010
  • “One of the Most Influential People in the Chemical Industries” ICIS 2008
  • “Award for Outstanding Leadership” Council of Science Society Presidents, 2008
  • “Honorary Member” Alpha Lambda Delta Freshman’s National Honor Society, 2006
  • “Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Mentoring” NSF and President George W. Bush, 2004
  • “Outstanding Environmental Innovation” Environmental Business Council of New England, 2004.
  • “Distinguished Mentoring Service Award” Ronald E. McNair Baccalaureate Achievement Program, 2004.
  • “Outstanding Service to Nursing Award”, Sigma Theta Tao, 2004
  • “College and University Health and Safety Award” ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety, 2004
  • “Distinguished Chemist of the Year”, American Institute of Chemists, New England Chapter, 2002
  • “UMASS President's Public Service Award”, Univesrsity of Massachusetts, 2002
  • “Reinventing Government”, National Performance Review, from Vice President Al Gore, 1997
  • “Metropolitan Boston’s Best and Brightest College Seniors”, Celebrity Magazine, 1984
  • “John Philip Sousa Award” and “Class Musician”, Quincy High School, 1980

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