When I took my first steps in the profession in the early seventies, the French State largely provided funding for its University Laboratories. This comfortable situation was not representative of the world order in this area.
In Canada, I was able to see, shortly thereafter, that the financial participation of corporations and public organizations in university research programs was not so easy and very competitive.
In Tunisia, a few years later, the State was equipping the country and thus providing the infrastructures. Regarding the research works, especially for chemicals, the situation was more delicate. They often had to be procured by methods that were not always orthodox.
When I returned to Toulouse, the two oil shocks having passed by, I had to follow the North American methods as soon as possible.
This has been rather successful since, over the years, I have been able to develop many research areas focused on biomass chemistry with acid-base catalysis as the main reaction tool.
It is therefore from the carbon of the coal fossil resource but especially oil that Organic Chemistry has experienced its tremendous growth in the twentieth century both in terms of understanding its reaction mechanisms and the extraordinary diversity of new products that were synthesized.
This is because it is easy to produce and separate the basic molecules that are saturated and unsaturated hydrocarbons from fossil carbon resources.
The simple and direct path to increasing complexity was through catalytic oxidation. The carbonyl compounds obtained then constituted the main class of organic compounds. It is then sufficient to oxidize them again without going to carbon dioxide, reduce them and proceed on the molecules obtained to exchanges between oxygen and other hetero atoms in the foreground of which nitrogen to build the essential of organic chemistry.
This considerable work is done by nature every day through photosynthesis and the subsequent biochemical reactions leading to structures of much greater complexity that are excluded from separation by simple initial distillation as in the case of oil refining. The difference is fundamental.
The chemist who uses biomass as a raw material will often have to start from a complex molecular situation to go towards much simpler everyday molecules, for use identical to those from oil, which are the current industrial reference.
It will have to use separations and chemical or biochemical transformations to, for example, reduce the too high level of oxygen in sugars and often combine enzymatic and chemical catalysis.
The proposed solutions will have to be both economic and ecological. It is to this considerable stake that biomass chemistry is confronted today with, as we will see, many assets to win it.
In addition, the renewable nature of biomass makes it possible to incorporate its transformation into everyday products or energy in the context of sustainable development, which has become a major economic and political concern in all latitudes in recent years.
Coal chemistry marked the nineteenth century, petrochemicals the twentieth century, the chemistry of biomass will, as you will discover, if you were not already convinced, that of the twenty-first century.
I have supervised 80 Ph.D., register all around the world 60 international patent families, presented nearly 280 conferences and papers at international conferences and published more than 200 scientific papers in leading international scientific journals.
All of this work aims to develop clean technologies where, what is not a usable product, is recycled. They are summarized and referenced by theme: