Scale Up of the Ceres Nanotrap Particle Production Process; An Investigation of the Environmental Impacts of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Smith, Kathryn, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
JACQUES, RICHARD, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Anderson, Eric, EN-Chem Engr Dept, University of Virginia

While studying chemical engineering, I became disillusioned by the adverse environmental effects of chemical processes. Chemical engineers have a direct and often negative effect on the environment by designing processes that release greenhouse gases and other harmful waste. However, we as engineers also participate in creating sustainable ways for humans to live, designing alternative energy methods or providing access to clean water. After working at the Northern Virginia based startup Ceres Nanosciences over Summer 2020, I noticed disposal of large volumes of chemical waste that still contained valuable reactants. My technical project involves aims to reduce their chemical waste during their scale-up. My research paper is directly related, as it investigates the environmental effects of pharmaceutical companies. While Ceres Nanosciences is a biotechnology rather than a pharmaceutical company, its products are in the same general scope and it shares many production characteristics with a pharmaceutical process.
The technical portion of my technical project included gathering information from Ceres’ work instructions and data sheets and collating them into one comprehensive summary of their process. A detailed process flow diagram was created, and ways to reduce their chemical waste were brainstormed and designed. These included recycling waste back into reactors, using activated carbon to capture chemicals, and rearranging a tangential flow filtration system to use less water. After economic and safety analysis, final recommendations were made to Ceres by my team in hopes they will be tested and implemented. Some of these recommendations cut waste by over fifty percent, but they had varying costs to the company. Most of this information is protected under a nondisclosure agreement.
In my STS research, I investigated the environmental effects of pharmaceutical companies and highlighted how they manage to escape criticism compared to oil and energy companies. This involved studying four areas: single use plastics in research and development, energy use in manufacturing, water use and pollution, and waste disposal and containment incidents. The research ends with a case study of Merck & Co., a large pharmaceutical company that made egregious errors in their design and implementation of waste containment leading to a massive court case. The goal of this paper was to shed light on the effects these companies have on the environment, in hopes that people will put pressure on pharmaceutical companies to make sustainability a cornerstone of their process design.
Throughout conducting this research, I have become even more cognizant of the negative environmental effects pharmaceutical and biotechnology manufacturing. Those sectors need engineers that care about the environment to make sustainable changes to their processes. In my technical project, it was very fulfilling to make these changes and hope to see them implemented in the recent future. I am optimistic about the future of chemical engineering and the reversal of the frightening environmental effects I am predicted to see in my lifetime.
I would like to acknowledge Richard Jacques and Eric Anderson, my research and technical advisors, respectively. Dr. Jacques provided valuable feedback and pointed me toward some great supporting evidence for my research. Professor Anderson has guided my team through the technical project and helped us put our ideas into a final design. Thank you to my team members, Peter Miedaner, Amy Wang, Justin Fernandes, and James Mullin for their work on the technical portion, as well as Ben Lepene and Rosalind Ramsey at Ceres for their time working with us on this project.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
nanoparticle, environment, pharmaceutical, scale up, production, coronavirus, pandemic
Sponsoring Agency:
Ceres Nanosciences, Inc.

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Eric Anderson
STS Advisor: Richard Jacques
Technical Team Members: Justin Fernandes, Peter Miedaner, James Mullin, Amy Wang

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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