Chemical Re-Use program saves time and the environment

Sayed Magthum Mohideen Batcha, head of Supply Chain Services, talks about the Chemical Re-Use Program. Photo by Lilit Hovhannisyan.

By Lulwah Shalhoub, KAUST News

Being a science-based university, researchers at KAUST use large volumes of chemicals in their lab experiments. This results in over a ton of chemical waste being disposed on a weekly basis that could potentially harm the environment.

The procurement and disposal of chemicals is an arduous process involving cost, time and governmental approvals. To minimize the environmental hazard, Supply Chain Services at KAUST started applying a program to encourage researchers to reuse and share the chemicals they require in their research experiments.

"The objective of the Chemical Re-Use Program is that the researchers can donate any surplus and unused chemicals to the Chemical Warehouse. The chemicals can be used by fellow researchers free of cost," said Sayed Magthum Mohideen Batcha, head of Supply Chain Services.

The program accepts both used and unused chemicals as long as they are uncontaminated and in original containers. The items are collected from labs and tagged and stored in the Chemical Warehouse after being checked for expiry and usability. The chemicals are then published on the Chemical Warehouse's SciQuest catalog. From there, they can be ordered and are delivered mostly with in a day.

Since the program came into force in February 2016, there has been an overwhelming response from the research community, with more than 100 researchers donating over 3,000 bottles of chemicals. More than 1,300 bottles of these chemicals were issued to and used by over 100 researchers on campus in labs within the Physical Science and Engineering Division (PSE), as well as the Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering Division (BESE), the Clean Combustion Research Center (CCRC), the KAUST Catalysis Center (KCC) and the Core Labs.

The Chemical Warehouse where chemicals are stored for researchers' usage. Photo by Lilit Hovhannisyan.

"By reusing the chemicals, you're not wasting anything," Batcha said. "Users do not have to buy chemicals externally, since the process of buying chemicals takes long periods due to logistical reasons and government permit requirements. Through this process, we're saving money, time and the environment."

To encourage more researchers to share chemicals, a software program was developed to make it easier for them to locate chemicals for their research. The chemical inventory management software Enterprise Reagent Manager (ERM) tracks the chemicals in each lab.

"If you only need a small amount of the chemical, then you do not need to go through the lengthy process of ordering and waiting for weeks or months for it to arrive at your lab. You can just go to the lab next door and look for the quantity you need," noted Batcha.

A similar program has also been applied for consumable reutilization.

"When reusing consumables, you're also protecting the environment and you're reducing the quantity of what is estimated to be 100 to 200 kilograms of glass and plastic items that are disposed of every week," Batcha said.

"The Chemical Re-Use Program has been a valuable tool to help us reduce the chemical inventory of the Advanced Membranes & Porous Materials (AMPM) Center Lab in a responsible way by allowing us to share chemicals that we no longer need," said Dr. Federico Pacheco, a staff scientist at AMPM.

He said that in the early days of KAUST, when it was more difficult to purchase and receive chemicals in a timely manner, there was a general tendency in the University to stock up on chemicals, which resulted in an accumulation of some chemicals and materials. These were never consumed because too much was purchased or because the research needs changed over time. Chemicals ended up being disposed, wasting their value, and there was also the cost of dealing with additional hazardous waste.

"The Chemical Re-Use Program came to fill a gap and provided a platform to make those materials available for other researchers on campus...In a way, you can think of this initiative as an indirect collaboration program for the entire research community. I am impressed with the fast response from the warehouse team. They usually process requests right away, and most chemicals can be picked up on the same day," Pacheco added.

Ph.D. student Kuang-Hui Li from the University's Electrical Engineering program in the Computer, Electrical and Mathematical Science & Engineering (CEMSE) division said the program has benefited his oxide semiconductor research.

"I need oxide powder for lab experiments. I apply for oxide powder from the Chemical Re-use Program, which saves money and time for me. I appreciate that KAUST has such a program, and I hope you can regularly update the inventory list and actively announce what chemicals are available monthly," he said.

Batcha concluded by advising researchers to take part in the programs, as it also helps them eliminate distractions that take them away from their research.

"Procurement and supply chain teams are ready to help the researchers implement these programs, and the researchers can spend time working on research," he said.