Greener Solutions

Greener Solutions

The Greener Solutions program is a project based class that partners students with companies, non-profits, and/or government agencies interested in promoting the adoption of more sustainable chemistry. Every year we recruit teams of graduate students and advanced undergraduates to work closely with our partner organizations on interdisciplinary projects that leverage students’ knowledge in a real-world context.

The goal of these interdisciplinary projects is to understand and characterize the opportunities for the adoption of safer chemicals and materials within the partner organizations. While many of the solutions that our students describe will take many more years of research to develop, others may be built on existing solutions in other sectors. The resulting “opportunity map” creates a guide for the partner organization and UC Berkeley researchers to continue the problem-solving after the end of the initial semester-long project. Many of the projects started in the Greener Solutions program have grown into larger initiatives at Berkeley or within our partner organizations.

The Greener Solutions program has been supported by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control, a Pollution Prevention Grant from Region 9 of the US Environmental Protection Agency, and contributions from our partner organizations.

Past Projects

Greener Solutions 2023: Safer Foaming Agents For Athletic Shoe Midsoles with Nike

In partnership with Nike, this student team was tasked with identifying safer alternatives to Azodicarbonamide (ADCA) used as a blowing agent to create foams in the midsole of athletic shoes.

Final Presentation Slides

Final Report

Greener Solutions 2023: Safer Alternatives to Flame Retardants in Firefighter Stationwear

In partnership with the International Association of Firefighters, this team examined safer alternatives to halogenated flame retardants used in firefighter stationwear.

Final Presentation

Final Report

Greener Solutions 2023: PVA in Laundry Sheets with ECOS

In partnership with ECOS, this student team examined potential alternatives to PVA (polyvinyl alcohol) in laundry detergent sheets.

Final Presentation

Final Report

Greener Solutions 2022: Safer Nail Polish Solvents & Formulations

In partnership with the California Dept. of Toxic Substances Control and L’Oreal, this student team was tasked with identifying safer alternatives to previously used “bad actor” chemicals, such as toluene, in nail polish formulations.

Final Report Final Presentation Slides Recording of final...

Greener Solutions 2022: PFAS-free Fire Fighting Turnout Gear

Students were challenged to identify safer alternatives to the PTFE laminate moisture barrier currently approved by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1971 Standards, which certify firefighter turnout gear. The student team was partnered with the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), a labor union made up of firefighters and scientists, representing firefighters and paramedics in the United States and Canada.

Final Report and...

Greener Solutions 2022: Moisture Barrier for Seaweed-based Poly Mailers

This project focused on identifying potential strategies that Sway, a San Francisco Bay Area startup developing seaweed-based films, could implement to enhance the moisture resistance of their seaweed-based poly mailers, while also maintaining optimal mechanical performance, biodegradability, and compostability.

Final Report Final Presentation Slides...

Greener Solutions 2021: PFAS in Floor Polishes

This team examined potential alternatives to PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in floor polish, in response to recent legislation in Maine requiring the removal of PFAS from “avoidable” use in products sold in the state by 2030. Floor polish is under consideration as one possible product category since nearly every floor polish on the market contains PFAS. The team proposed two biosurfactants as potential alternatives to PFAS in floor polish: rhamnolipids and amino acid surfactants, specifically sodium lauroyl glutamate....

Greener Solutions 2021: Compostable Packaging for Frozen Kelp

This team partnered with Noble Ocean Farms, a kelp farming startup in Cordova, Alaska, to identify sustainable and biodegradable packaging strategies. Their first strategy completely replaces polyethylene with a bioplastic, which is significantly less persistent in the environment. Their second strategy uses a durable material (i.e. paperboard) in combination with a bioplastic laminate/coating, eliminating traditional plastics completely. And their third strategy combines a bioplastic packaging with a structural material separate from the bioplastic....

Greener Solutions 2021: Compostable Adhesive for PLU Stickers

This team was challenged with identifying biodegradable pressure sensitive adhesives for home-compostable price lookup (PLU) stickers. The team’s proposed alternatives include: proteins (gluten, Nb-1R, Arabinogalactan Proteins), polysaccharides (chitosan and carrageenan), biolipids (PHAs, Epoxidized Soybean Oil), and structural adhesives. The breadth of strategies explored provide excellent context, inspiration, and potential alternatives for the future of greener pressure sensitive adhesives....

Greener Solutions 2021: Alternatives for 6PPD in tire manufacturing

Saving coho salmon: Alternatives for 6PPD in tire manufacturing

In early 2021, 6PPD-quinone, which is a transformation product of 6PPD, was discovered as the likely cause of pre-spawn mortality in Coho salmon in the Pacific Northwest. 6PPD is a critical tire rubber additive with high-performing antidegradant properties. The team proposed four strategies: the use of food preservatives, such as gallates; replacement with the polymer lignin; modification of 6PPD to prevent formation of its toxic quinone form; and finally, broader process-level changes,...

Greener Solutions 2020: PFAS-free home product packaging

The product packaging researchers identified biopolymer films for product packaging for a range of Method Home products, including laundry powders, detergents, and soaps, with a range of moisture barrier needs. The team came up with strategies that fell into three categories: Biopolymer films derived from natural sources, including chitosan, pectin, and gelatin; chemical additive cross-linking film to improve barrier and mechanical properties, including with genipin and ferulic acid; and physical additive nanofillers to reinforce film’s barrier and mechanical properties,...

Greener Solutions 2020: PFAS-Free Compostable Food Packaging

The food packaging team identified alternatives to fluoropolymer mixtures in molded fiber such as rhamnolipids and pectin added to the existing paper system and nanocellulose and lignin sourced from within the paper system. The team thought creatively to identify how materials that would normally be wasted in the existing paper production system could be reused.

Final Presentation...

Greener Solutions 2020: PFAS removal for carpet recycling

The carpet recycling group presented innovative strategies to remove PFAS from carpet face fiber fluff during recycling. The team provided strategies with a range of timescales to implementation. The first strategy involved using base hydrolysis and granular activated carbon (GAC) adsorption to remove but not destroy PFAS. The second strategy built on the first, but proposed using reverse osmosis and plasma treatment to destroy the PFAS. The third strategy proposed the use of esterase (specifically pig liver esterase) as an alternative to using sodium hydroxide in the other...

Greener Solutions 2020: PFAS in Aftermarket Carpet Treatments

The aftermarket carpet treatment team presented PFAS alternatives for aftermarket stain repellant treatments. Their proposed solutions included natural waxes and oils, biopolymers, and silicon-based materials, including silicon dioxide nanoparticles and silicon-containing small molecules and polymers. The team identified chitosan and cellulose nanocrystal as candidates for a biopolymer approach. The team noted the potential to combine multiple strategies to achieve optimal performance metrics....

Greener Solutions 2019: Stereolithography (SLA) resins

Acrylates are used as very effective cross-linkers in the polymerization of liquid resins used in stereolithography (SLA) printing. When UV light is shown on reactive monomers or oligomers in the liquid resins, they bond together to form a solid object and a typical SLA printer will build up a solid object, layer by layer, using this chemical reaction.

Acrylates and methacrylates present some human and environmental health problems, however. In use in the baseline study resin these chemicals were shown to be skin and eye irritants, skin...

Greener Solutions 2019: Alternatives to DMF with Nike

Dimethylformamide (DMF) is used extensively as a solvent and “texturizer” in the manufacture of polyurethane-based synthetic leather used in sport shoes and partner Nike wished to explore ways to reduce or eliminate the chemical from its production line.

DMF is a known liver toxicant and is associated with several other severe health outcomes. DMF can be easily absorbed by the dermal and respiratory systems, whereafter the liver is the primary target organ. Overall, DMF is a high or moderate hazard for the endpoints of carcinogenicity and...

Greener Solutions 2018: Safer Sunscreens

The Safer Sunscreens group identified naturally-sourced compounds such as colorless carotenoids, mycosporine-like amino acids, and vitamin E compounds, for use as potential alternatives to existing sunscreen compounds. These substances may serve as viable alternatives to the benzophenone compounds recently banned in the State of Hawaii. The team based its research on plant and microbial approaches to UV protection. The group also considered the properties of compounds that have been accepted for use in Europe, but not in the United States, with an aim to identify the...

Greener Solutions 2018: Roofing materials with Oakland EcoBlock

Partnered with The Oakland EcoBlock, the roofing materials group searched for compounds to replace the UV protection HALS compounds that typically suffuse TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin) roofing membranes. Although HALS compounds are effective and regenerative (individual HALS molecules can undergo multiple antioxidant cycles), they are toxic and tend to leach out of the membrane, posing an environmental threat . This group investigated a strategy of coupling natural antioxidants such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and poly-catechin to produce a...

Greener Solutions 2018: Ocean Plastics with Method

The Ocean Plastics team compared the performance and end-of-life behavior of bio-based plastics to petroleum-derived types, with the goal of identifying polymers that behave more similarly to cellulose, keratin, or DNA polymers in the environment. Their research indicated that plastics that degrade only to nano- or micro-scale structures can be very hazardous, readily absorbing persistent organic pollutants and remaining in the food chain. The problem of the ubiquity of nano-plastic bits in the environment was an additional and novel performance challenge that they considered...

Greener Solutions 2017: Mushroom-based leather performance with MycoWorks

The MycoWorks team were challenged with improving performance in a product that was already more sustainable than traditional leather making and included no toxic materials in either the finished product or manufacturing process. Their main concern was in producing a supple mushroom-based “leather” that held up to mechanical stresses and environmental moisture.

They proposed three methods to increase the strength and flexibility of the product by cross-linking chitosan in the material, using genipin among other materials, and applying a moisture barrier...

Greener Solutions 2017: Durable water repellency with WLGore

This interdiscipilinary team investigated alternatives to perfluorinated compounds for DWR (durable water repellency) in outdoor clothing. The Gore team was challenged to create a high-performance fabric treatment that could resist both water and oils. They recommended silica nanosols and blow spinning as the two most promising solutions; these reported the best hydrophobicity, potential for oleophobicity, and application to textiles.

A silica nanosol coating provides hierarchical structuring through silica nanoparticles that bond with the...

Greener Solutions 2016: Safer PHA/PHB colorants for marine buoys

Mango Materials, of Berkeley, CA, makes the biopolymers PHA (Poly-hydroxyalkanoate ) and PHB (poly-hydroxybutryate) from waste methane. The Mango team was challenged to investigate colorants because while PHA is biodegradable, many of the substances added to it for application performance are not and some of the currently used industrial colorants have properties that are cause for concern. Iron oxide red, for example, is persistent in the environment and has shown evidence of carcinogenic effects.

The Mango team researched several areas in...

Greener Solutions 2016: Mosquito repellent clothing with Patagonia

The challenge for the Patagonia team was to develop a non-toxic, environmentally benign method for a fabric, clothing or a clothing treatment to prevent the biting of the wearer by mosquitoes. The baseline condition that the team investigated was the common industry treatment of polyester with permethrin. Permethrin, although ultimately plant-based, is an insecticide used as a repellant and is toxic to insects and aquatic life when released in the environment. It was expected that all innovative solutions to the challenge would be explored,...

Greener Solutions 2016: Modular polymers with Steelcase

The Steelcase team focused on one area of the current plastic manufacturing process that would require changes to execute polymer modularity — additives. The team chose the colorants used for the polypropylene Node chair line as the baseline for substitution and as a test for the concept of modularity. These colorants can be hazardous. For example, carbon black, a common colorant, is a well-known occupational hazard and probable carcinogen. The team was faced with two distinct but entwined parts of the challenge: finding more benign materials, like...

Greener Solutions 2015: Safer resins for 3D printing with Autodesk

For this challenge, students worked with Autodesk to develop safer and more sustainable resins for 3D printing. The student team assessed the current formulas being used in the industry after being trained briefly in chemistry, toxicology and public health research. Proposed solutions include: replacing the photoinitiator (using curcumin and riboflavin), modifying acrylate-based resins (with triglycerides or chitosan), and using non-acyrlate resins via pH photoinitiation (with calcite or metal ligand complexes). ...

Greener Solutions 2015: Low-temperature oily soil removal in laundry

This team was challenged to assess current laundry detergent formulations and propose strategies for laundry detergents that work effectively in cold water, low-energy wash cycles. Partners on this challenge included Method and Seventh Generation, who are both seeking industry-wide solutions to this challenge, and Amyris and BioAmber, two companies who are developing innovative, sustainable, and green ways to produce chemicals.


Greener Solutions 2014: Chemical Preservatives with Beautycounter and Seventh Generation

Designing next generation chemical preservatives for personal care and home care products with Beautycounter and Seventh Generation

Final presentation video

Final presentation slides

Final Report


Greener Solutions 2013: Cotton Cross-Linking and Fabric Finishing for Levi's

In 2013 we partnered with Levi Strauss &Co. and Biomimicry 3.8 to identify and evaluate potential biomimetic approaches to fabric finishing that would eliminate the use of formaldehyde and diisocyanates. Students worked alongside industrial partners to identify the most promising replacement materials and have identified a number of inherently less hazardous approaches to fabric finishes which will need to be tested in the lab. At the end of the semester a few of the students were interested in testing one or two of the new ideas in lab. These initial lab investigations...

Greener Solutions 2012: E-waste Challenge with HP

During the fall of 2012 we partnered with Hewlett Packard and the Department of Toxic Substance Control on a project related to the informal e-waste recycling sector. An interdisciplinary team of students from Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Environmental Science and Public Health worked with scientist at HP to characterize the processes and emissions from common e-waste recycling practices. This information informs changes to the design of consumer electronics that minimize the use of harmful substances, as well as identifying emerging contaminated from newer generations of...