Meet the EarthWise Team is a series of inspirational and often untold stories about the people behind important solutions, technologies and products that make our lives better and safer every day.
The series presents some of the key scientists and business professionals who have contributed to the development, progress and implementation of the green chemistry products, processes and principles of Albemarle and the Earthwise Initiative.
William J. (Joe) Layman, Jr., inventor of GreenArmor™, was actually engaged in solving a different challenge when he developed the process that led to this environmentally friendly flame retardant.
Describe what you were working on and how you turned it into GreenArmor, an eco-friendly flame retardant.
Like most scientists, I approach an experiment alert to both the process of a reaction and to the result.
The creation of GreenArmor was serendipity, an unexpected outcome that came from the unlikely juxtaposition of two thoughts: process and result. I was asked to look at a polymer flame retardant and how to make the process more efficient, similar to work I had performed with other products, as I mentioned earlier. In this case, I combined certain chemicals and used small amounts of different materials. When it came to a key chemical reagent, I used an extremely large amount. That led to a result that did not work at all the way I had intended. But the process led me to see that those materials could be combined in different amounts and in different ways to give varying results as measured by molecular size distributions. I went back to the drawing board, tried a few variations and, a few days later, literally, I had the beginnings of GreenArmor.
At that point, I went to my boss and described what I had produced. I asked for permission to focus my time, plus additional staff and resources on this new endeavor that was only marginally related to the one I had been asked to work on. He agreed to re-assign me to this project, giving me the freedom to surmise the amounts and the conditions to arrive at the optimal formulation and optimal performance characteristics.
For the next six months, my team and I came up with about 100 sample formulations of the new polymer scaffold. From the beginning, I took a very different approach to develop this unproven technology platform. Generally, a chemist on a team will take complete responsibility for all the steps in a synthetic process. But in my model, we created a new development process and each chemist was a specialist who focused on one step in the process, so as to achieve greater efficiency. Everyone on the team worked on all 100 formulations; that way, we all shared in the glory. The efficiencies and economics of this phase contributed to the speed of an ultimately successful discovery process.
As the leader, I worked with the chemists to develop the technology platform and figure out the molecular architecture and scaffold with the most economical and efficient processes. Later, we envisioned how to connect the processes on a large scale to a plant for manufacture of the product we now call GreenArmor. Scheduled to launch for commercial use in early 2011, we believe GreenArmor will be the preferred eco-friendly solution compared to many flame retardants currently on the market, while maintaining the premium performance product attributes.
GreenArmor is non-bioaccumulative and recyclable and is organically-based rather than mineral-based. It is a polymer, which means the molecule is too large to be absorbed by the body or animal life.
It sounds as if, because you were already focused on atom efficiency and controlling waste, that you came up with the core formulation of GreenArmor, even if that was not your initial objective. And then you applied the idea of efficient testing to the research process.
That’s correct. We are using the same strategy for future GreenArmor products. Again, I am varying the reaction feed and the process parameters, to come up with an exhaustive production of polymer molecular scaffolds with different molecular weight and range and asymmetry. Combine this with the specialization of the participating chemists and the result is another polymeric product, with a significantly different molecular weight and distribution that will be used in other applications, because its performance characteristics are different, tailor-made for its end use. As the leader in flame retardants, it’s important that our fire safety solutions are very customized to the needs of our customers, plastics compounders and polymer manufacturers so that they can add the best life-saving properties to resins used in electronics, appliances and furnishings.
Joe Layman, thank you for sharing your insights into the process and the thought behind the green chemistry of atom efficiency and Albemarle’s and Earthwise’s GreenArmor.
About Albemarle: Albemarle Corporation, headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is a leading global developer, manufacturer, and marketer of highly-engineered specialty chemicals for consumer electronics, petroleum refining, utilities, packaging, construction, automotive/transportation, pharmaceuticals, crop protection, food-safety and custom chemistry services.
Earthwise™ is a division of Albemarle Corporation. Earthwise represents a family of products that follows strict environmental-friendly standards, along with practicing green chemistry principles.