NETI is part of the Massachusetts Strategic Envirotechnology Partnership Program (STEP), a collaborative group involving UMass, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, and the Massachusetts Department of Economic Development. STEP's agenda is to promote research, development and technology transfer at UMass Amherst, as well as at the university's Boston, Lowell, and Dartmouth campuses. Annual funding for NETI comes from monies allocated by the State Legislature to support STEP. From 1995 through 1997, this funding remained stable at $1.5 million, with NETI's share at approximately $600,000. In the 1998 fiscal year, it was increased to $2.0 million, and NETI's budget for the year rose to $770,000.

In order to qualify for funding under the NETI program, academic departments must enter into research collaborations with industrial partners that either match the legislature's contribution with industry funds, or match it "in-kind", meaning that they provide non-cash resources such as space, data, equipment, or staff support. Grants are awarded following an extensive review process by the NETI Advisory Board, which is comprised of representatives from the university, industry, a variety of government and research institutions, and other technical experts.

Upstairs in his office at Blaisdell House, a quaint turn-of-the-century farmhouse tucked into a line of maple trees on the UMass campus, Joseph Larson, the Chair of NETI's Advisory Board, pauses reflectively
before making the point that the organization's greatest asset is its partnership with industry. "It's imperative to demonstrate to the legislature that when we do research it's important to industry," he said. "Here we prove it's important by having an industrial partner."

And of industrial partners there has been no shortage. Companies that have participated in NETI research projects include Polaroid, ChemDesign, General Electric, and United Technologies, among others. These
companies have come to UMass with myriad challenges ranging from the need to separate and recycle chemicals in the design process, to minimizing occupational chemical exposures among their workers. In
tackling these problems, they have tapped into the academic brain power contained in the departments of Chemical Engineering, Polymer Science and Engineering, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. Larson is unequivocal in his regard for these departments as they STEP up to the plate. "What pleases me is that we've been able to attract the involvement of faculty in some nationally renowned departments," he said.

Many projects funded under the NETI program are yielding process design technologies with potentially widespread uses. For example, Curtis Conner and Robert Lawrence of the department of Chemical Engineering, together with their industrial partner ChemDesign Corporation, based in Fitchburg, MA, are investigating ways to remove a class of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from process streams and plant atmospheres so they can be recycled. VOCs derive from chemical solvents, which are required for many industrial processes. Among the most common industrial pollutants, VOCs can pose a significant hazard to human health if inadvertently released to the environment. A number of them are classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as either known or suspected human carcinogens. Therefore, cost-effective and environmentally friendly methods to reduce the use and potential release of these chemicals are interesting to any industry that uses solvents ? for example, the power, petrochemical, and materials industries.

To accomplish this goal, Conner and Lawrence have been working with what they call zeolites, which are sieves with pores so small they selectively trap VOC molecules before they enter process effluents. The
VOCs are removed from the zeolites using microwave radiation, and are then recovered for future use. The use of microwaves to "regenerate" the zeolites is revolutionary. Traditionally, separation technologies
have employed heat ? VOCs will volatilize at lower temperatures than most other compounds in the waste mixture providing the opportunity to recover them as vapors. However, Conner and Thompson have
found that microwaves do the same job using one-third the energy. Hence, the mutual goals of improved environmental protection and reduced cost are simultaneously achieved.

NETI also funded VOC recovery research in the laboratories of Michael Malone and Michael Doherty, also professors in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Malone and Doherty worked the problem from a different angle, however. Rather than attempting to remove spent solvents from waste effluents, they looked at ways to recover and reuse them at active points in the process cycle. Their goal was to prove that for certain chemicals, the reaction and separation phases of a given process could be accomplished simultaneously ? an improvement in process design that would limit the production of toxic by-products.They succeeded with a model they called a "Simultaneous Reaction-Separation System". "We try to make solvent recovery processes more tightly integrated with the main chemistry," wherever there is slack time in the process." said Malone. "The traditional approach has been that first you do the chemistry, then you do the separation. We're looking at doing the separation along with the chemistry. Sometimes you can do it effectively, sometimes you can't." The results of their pioneering research were recently published in the August 1997 issue of Nature, one of the world's leading research journals.

Through its partnership with Polaroid, Malone and Doherty were able to apply their approach to an actual separation problem faced by industry. Malone is enthusiastic about Polaroid's contribution to their
research. "They provided us with real separation problems. We worked with their engineers, tried out methods on their system that really worked. We got feedback [from Polaroid] on things we might never have thought of."

NETI's research agenda is not limited to changes in process design, however. Researchers at the UMass School of Public Health and Health Sciences have also looked at how workers are exposed to chemicals in
industrial settings. This research has yielded technologies that will make work environments cleaner and safer. Salvatore R. DiNardi, for example, has developed instrumentation that allows workers to monitor
their exposures by being videotaped while on a production line. This methodology, referred to as the Video-Source Emission Assessment Technology (VSEAT), superimposes concentrations of airborne
pollutants on a video image, so that viewers can see the operations that lead to worker exposures in real time. DiNardi has worked on this project with a number of dry cleaning operations based in Western
Massachusetts.

Ultimately, the goal is for NETI to emerge as a national and international player in pollution prevention research. Larson is aggressively seeking to "build bridges to Washington" to include federal agencies as
active funding partners in NETI's growing coalition. As a pitch to federal agencies, he points to Massachusetts legislators, Douglas Petersen and Robert Durand, both of whom stand firmly behind NETI, and share his enthusiasm for its continued growth. NETI is also participating in a number of national "Green Chemistry" initiatives sponsored by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and was one of four university programs invited to participate in the 1997 Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference, held in June 1997, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC.

According to DeVito, an important part of NETI's philosophy is that it works to bring about important changes in environmental protection without the use of increased regulations. "The primary interaction is
between industry and academia," he said. "That's why the program is such a success. Polaroid, General Electric, Chem-Design, United Technologies - these are world class organizations that don't invest in
something without putting a lot of thought into it. And it's non-regulatory. This is the critical component, a new model."

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