Green Talents Award: chemistry for a “greener future”

What if you could turn waste into something that benefits the environment? Something that reduces fossil fuel consumption, helps generate clean energy, and can even – if all goes to plan – be used to bind large quantities of the greenhouse gas CO2? This was the big question Jesús Esteban Serrano set out to answer.

Jesús has been researching the colourless, clear, viscous, slightly odorous liquid named glycerol carbonate for a long time. His doctoral thesis examined how this substance can be produced with “green chemistry”. He takes glycerol, which is generated in huge quantities in manufacturing biodiesel, and combines it for example with dimethyl carbonate. That in turn binds climate-changing carbon dioxide, producing a harmless solvent. Solvents are needed everywhere, including, for example, in cosmetics. And usually, these multi-purpose chemicals are made using chemicals of fossil origin. 

The product of this “green chemistry” is a win-win situation that is also very interesting for industry: the process cuts back on fossil resources, the use of which for example in cosmetics is in any case highly controversial. At the same time, it utilises the widely available, affordable glycerol, and in addition it binds greenhouse gases. It’s perfect. – But not exactly simple. 

The price of a greener future

So it’s no wonder that Jesús has won plenty of awards for his achievements in this field, including the 2016 Green Talents Award. Presented annually by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Green Talents Award aims to make the world a better place. Its declared intention in funding talented young researchers from around the world is to create a sustainable and greener future.

“I was already very interested in sustainability research at university: I explored it in my Bachelor’s thesis, in my Master’s project and in my dissertation. Winning the award felt like a validation of the work I had been developing up to that point.”

Insights into German sustainability research

As a Green Talents Award winner, Jesús had the opportunity to visit leading German research centres working in environmental and sustainability research and discuss his work with experts. “The award was incredibly helpful for me. It allowed me to meet Professor Walter Leitner, who made it possible for me to obtain a postdoctoral position in Germany.”

Leitner not only holds the Chair of Technical Chemistry and Petrochemistry at RWTH Aachen, he is also a director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion (MPI CEC) in Mülheim an der Ruhr. Here at MPI CEC Jesús now works in the research group led by Dr Andreas Vorholt, whom he already knew from his research stay at TU Dortmund as a DAAD scholarship holder in 2014 and thanks to the Green Talents programme in 2017.

Jesús Esteban Serrano

Jesús Esteban Serrano was born 33 years ago and raised in “the beyond amazing city of Madrid”. In high school he spent a year abroad in Ireland, then studied chemical engineering at Universidad Complutense de Madrid and at the University of Texas in Austin and went to TU Dortmund as a DAAD scholarship holder. After completing his doctorate in Madrid he spent almost two years in Birmingham as a postdoctoral researcher. Today he works at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion (MPI CEC) in Mülheim an der Ruhr.

In 2016 the Federal Ministry of Education and Research presented him with the Green Talents Award in recognition of his research. He is also the winner of the 2018 CAS SciFinder Future Leaders Award and the 2018 EFCE Excellence Award in Chemical Reaction Engineering.


Strong ties to Germany

What Jesús likes about Germany is the scientific working atmosphere: “My research stay at TU Dortmund during my doctorate had already allowed me to familiarise myself with the German working culture. And I learned to appreciate it even more during my second research stay.”

His return to Germany as an award-winning postdoc at the well-equipped Max Planck Institute in Mülheim has enabled Jesús to continue to refine his research idea and contribute to the “green future” project by developing environmentally compatible and renewable materials. And so he finds it “refreshing to see that there are countries that make clear efforts to supply funding for proper research and development activities, especially when it comes to the advance of sustainability-related topics.”

And what’s next? What does he hope the future holds? Sustainability, Jesús is certain, will remain his subject: “My main goal is to continue to contribute to developments in green chemistry that could eventually be applied in industry.”

Green Talents Award

The Green Talents Award is presented once a year to outstanding young scientists from around the world who advocate for sustainable development in their research work. The aim is to network young sustainability researchers with each other and allow them access to Germany’s research and innovation centres: the award winners are invited to visit leading German institutions working in sustainability research for two weeks, speak with the experts there and explore opportunities for cooperation. Also included in the award is a three-month research stay at a German institution of the winner’s choice. The award is offered and funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

More information:


Interested in the Green Talents Competition 2019? Register for the competition alert and you will be informed as soon as the next submission period starts

Autorin: Sabine Giehle

February 2019

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