Milton Hearn

Emeritus Prof

1980 …2023

Research activity per year

Personal profile


Green infusion creates new future for chemistry

Professor Milton Hearn and his team at the Centre for Green Chemistry have developed a new process to extract natural resveratrol from grape waste, rather than manufacturing it from a petro-chemical base. Resveratrol is a natural phenol found in the skin of red grapes and in an increasing number of processed foods, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. It is sought for its potential anti-ageing and health promoting effects.

Milton says the new extraction process adds value to what is otherwise agricultural waste. Chemically, it uses a biological process to replace a less efficient synthetic process that produces significant waste of its own. The result of the research is more resveratrol to go around and better environmental outcomes.

The new process uses recyclable polymers to attract and capture the resveratrol from grape skin residues, and waste from the process itself is minimal. It has the potential to generate commercial quantities of resveratrol, making it more readily available for research, and for incorporation into new products. The process can also be adapted to extract other biological phenols, and this is the aim of ongoing research at the Centre.

Milton says all these elements are an important part of the philosophy underpinning the green chemistry approach, which aims to be 'benign by design'.

When he first became director of the Centre for Green Chemistry in 2002 the term 'green chemistry' related largely to synthetic organic chemistry. Since then he has been instrumental in expanding the concept at both a national and international level, to incorporate what he calls 'bio-inspired chemistry'.

As a biochemist, Milton believes taking advantage of existing biological processes often proves a smarter and more cost-effective approach than synthetically reproducing naturally produced chemicals.

He says green chemistry will have an essential role in reducing the environmental and social impacts of the chemical industry. Of the 80,000 or so industrial chemicals used commercially, more than 90 per cent are produced from fossil fuels. In a carbon-aware economy this will have to change. The extraction of biologically produced resveratrol as an alternative to the synthesised product is a small beginning.

Numerous chemical manufacturing processes also generate significant quantities of waste, some of it toxic. In some cases up to 1000 times more waste is generated than usable product. Milton says this is also no longer socially acceptable and that many leading chemical manufacturers are undertaking whole life cycle assessments of their production processes and chemical use. Breaking down their production processes allows these businesses to identify areas where green chemistry can make a difference.

Projects are conducted using flexible, multi-disciplinary teams in much the same way that industry research teams operate. Milton says being able to understand chemistry within a context wider than just the chemistry itself is an essential part of the green approach.

The Centre's Australian Research Council funding is soon to end, but Milton is confident its next incarnation will provide even stronger links with industry. Monash and the Federal Government are funding a new $78 million purpose-built research centre at Clayton as part of the Green Chemical Futures initiative Milton leads. The new facility will create new opportunities for research, training and collaboration and will improve the capacity of the Australian chemical industry to respond to the challenges of the future.

Milton insists that the Centre's research is undertaken with practical outcomes in mind.

'Not all our projects are driven by meeting industry needs. But in my view progress in science is only achieved when you can identify the real benefits.'

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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