Rowan partners with Pfizer on green chemistry initiative

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Rowan chemical engineering students may help make a drug that eases the pain of arthritis sufferers gentler on the environment.

Rowan chemical engineering students may help make a drug that eases the pain of arthritis sufferers gentler on the environment.

Rowan students Anthony Furiato ('08, Shrewsbury, N.J.), Kyle Lynch ('09, Cranford, N.J.) and Timothy Moroz ('08, Manchester, N.J.) have been working with Pfizer, Inc. to improve the environmental profile of the manufacturing process for the active ingredient in the top-selling arthritis pain medication Celebrex® (celecoxib).

Working with scientists and engineers from Pfizer's Global Manufacturing Division headquarters in New York City, its Global Engineering group in Peapack, N.J., and its manufacturing site in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, the student team is evaluating alternative approaches for solvent recovery. The objective is to reduce the net quantity of solvent waste from the manufacturing process. The Rowan team has been working with several Pfizer personnel, including Dr. Daniel R. Pilipauskas (director/team leader, Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient Development Team), Frank J. Urbanski (director, Engineering Technology), Greg Hounsell (senior manager, Process Engineering) and Jorge Belgodere (manager/team leader, Manufacturing).

The project is one of several Rowan engineering clinic projects in which students are exploring green manufacturing strategies for pharmaceutical companies in the region. Started with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2005, the Rowan "green" partnerships are seeking to improve process efficiency through green engineering design. Pfizer is sponsoring this clinic project through its Green Chemistry initiative. Drs. Mariano Savelski and C. Stewart Slater, of Rowan University, are advisors of the student clinic team.

"Most of the clinic projects have students working with an engineer from one corporate site, but in our project students have interacted with Pfizer scientists and engineers from manufacturing in New York City, engineering in New Jersey and plant operations in Puerto Rico," Savelski said. Students presented their mid-term results in January to Pfizer management in New York City.

"Student work to date has been quite impressive. Their ideas for various processes are beneficial to us as we explore alternative methods for waste minimization to improve the environmental footprint of the process and make the operation more economical," said Pfizer's Hounsell.

Urbanski added, "In addition to providing the students an opportunity to apply their newly acquired engineering skill-base to a very real situation, I suspect the project also gave the students some perspective on the unique challenges faced by engineers in the pharmaceutical industry that will be of value to them as they begin their professional careers."

"Working with the Rowan team, we have been able to explore many options and get to potential solutions quickly. Given that we are engaged with many such projects around the world, working with Rowan has been a valuable experience," Pilipauskas said.

Students are in frequent contact with engineers at Pfizer to exchange ideas and solicit help with their project.

"This project provides Pfizer with several design strategies for recovery of the process solvent, used in the production of the drug, from waste streams," Slater said. "We hope Pfizer can adopt these to make a more efficient process that reduces waste, energy and overall cost."

The students are using computer simulations to predict the performance of their proposed solvent recovery operating schemes. Some of the separation methods the team is considering are distillation, extraction, membrane pervaporation and molecular sieve adsorption. They also are using a computer model to show how recovering the solvent improves the environmental footprint of the process and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Savelski and Slater were invited speakers at the Pfizer Solvent Operations Network conference in Peapack in February. They shared their expertise in solvent recovery with engineers from locations in Ireland, Puerto Rico, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Rowan group will present its work at the 12th Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference in Washington, D.C., in June.

As for the future, Pfizer and Rowan project coordinators are discussing how to capitalize on this year's success in further developing their partnership.

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