kl_mag_change-makers_claude-grison_header_desktop 1920x483

MAKERS OF CHANGE " Chemist converted to ecology, I make depollution a resource

At 61 years of age, Claude has proven herself. Director of a pioneering laboratory at the frontier between chemistry and ecology, research director of some thirty theses and more than fifteen programmes, multiple award winner of scientific prizes and medals, responsible for 42 patents and more than 160 publications, the Lorraine native has no intention of hanging up her coat just yet. After all, how could she when we are still breaking new ground and succeeding, day after day, in creating positive chemistry, inspired by nature, and a powerful solution to the most pressing environmental challenges?

kl_mint_active-ingredient_field_plant_2019 -170- 427x427

When we study living things, we are very receptive and even impressed by what life and nature are capable of doing.

Claude GrisonDirector of Research at the CNRS

You came to ecology rather late in your career. What in your career led you to take this path?

I have spent most of my career using interfaces. My first passion, chemistry of life, already deals with a combination of " classic " chemistry and biology-health. I like physical answers, looking for solutions to tangible problems. And I like to bring together different disciplines and create bridges between them. I have always needed my work to feel useful. And when we study living things, we are very receptive and even impressed by what life and nature are capable of doing. It's all there, we just need to find it.

  • <span class="ezstring-field">kl_mint_active-ingredient_field_plant_2019 -204- 367x460</span>
  • <span class="ezstring-field">kl_mint_active-ingredient_field_plant_2019 -160- 367x460</span>
  • <span class="ezstring-field">kl_mint_active-ingredient_field_plant_2019 -125- 367x460</span>

What was the catalyst for applying this philosophy to environmental issues?

In 2008, I was a professor at the University of Montpellier when a group of students came to me for help with their competition topic. Their problem related to the ability of certain plants to absorb pollutants and prevent them from being released into the environment. I was fascinated by the subject, I immersed myself in it and accompanied them for a year. With the help of a research botanist we identified a plant just 50km from the university laboratory that seemed to be able to absorb incredible amounts of zinc by growing in polluted environments. Here again we were at the crossroads between several disciplines and there was a whole new world to explore and invent. I was soon convinced that the usefulness of these plants did not stop at depollution, but that what they had stored could also be harvested for reuse in chemical processes. Following this crazy idea, I left my research field to join an ecology laboratory and then created my own laboratory for bio-inspired chemistry and ecological innovations, ChimEco, a real bridge between chemistry and ecology.

What has ecology changed in your approach to chemistry?


Rather than a change, it was a real confirmation on a large scale. I have always been convinced that chemistry can be a positive force. Too often, it tends to be dismissed as a problem. I knew it was capable of solving and fixing problems. This is what I strive to prove every day. These plants with depolluting properties are a perfect example. Since this first discovery, we have filed 36 CNRS patents and have carried out numerous depollution projects which now have major industrial outlets. The Klorane Botanical Foundation's project on the Mechelen mining site allowed us to test the incredible powers of Water Mint on polluted industrial effluents. We create virtuous processes from what nature already does: the plant takes care of capturing these metallic elements, which we then recover to use as catalysts for green chemical reactions. Rather than continuing to extract resources that we know are increasingly at risk, this is a way to reuse and recycle, and to turn pollution into a resource. It is a strong signal for the future when we manage to create virtuous industrial processes inspired by nature. A green economy is possible, just look around!

Back to top