Dr Andrew West, Awarded Fellowship of the Royal Society of Chemistry

Dr Andy West with Sonichem Lignin

Congratulations to Dr Andrew West, Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry

Sonichem is celebrating the exciting news that our Chief Chemist, Dr Andrew (Andy) West, has been made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC)! This prestigious award is testament to Andy’s long-time interest in practising and promoting sustainable chemistry in both industry and academia, helping to inspire the next generation of chemists. Here, Andrew talks about what piqued his interest in sustainable chemistry and how that developed into a stellar career.

Sustainable Chemistry from the beginning

I began my career studying at the University of Leicester, where I obtained a Master of Chemistry degree with first class honours, then a PhD in synthetic organic/inorganic chemistry in the field of recyclable heterogeneous and homogeneous catalysts. I became very interested in sustainability during this time, particularly in looking at how chemistry processes could be improved to make them less damaging to the environment. I went on to do a postdoc at Queen’s University Belfast, again looking at sustainability and exploring different ways of working that could potentially displace petrochemicals.

Bio-Based Chemicals and Sonichem

After my postdoc, I joined Melton Mowbray company Pera, a contract research organisation involved in a host of different sectors, including bio-based applications and chemistry. It was a very varied role, with opportunities to engage with a wide range of topics, from making bread out of barley instead of wheat, to producing chemicals from pig slurry. It also included a project with Sonichem – then known as Bio-Sep – which was to prove important to my career development a few years later. A move from industry to academia followed, when I joined Coventry University to investigate ways of making buildings more sustainable, looking at how the carbon footprint of concrete could be improved, and buildings designed to be disassembled at the end of their lifespan rather than demolished into a pile of rubble.

The persuasive argument for sustainable chemicals

A couple of decades ago, there was much less interest in sustainability, which was then considered a trailblazing concept. That has all changed in the intervening years and, today, people are far more aware of the impact mankind has on the planet, and the need to take action to minimise this. The public is starting to question the overuse of packaging and the air miles involved in the food supply chain, and businesses are all too aware of the ever-increasing price of oil. The challenge with any sustainable option is to provide credible solutions offering both environmental and financial benefits, as this encourages their adoption by businesses and individuals. They need to be convinced that any new solutions are not only sustainable, but also easy to implement and use, and affordable. In fact, switching from a petrochemical source to a biological one is not only more sustainable and environmentally friendly, but can also increase profit margins. Import duty is not payable on products made in the UK, and you don’t incur the extensive shipping costs associated with using materials from around the world. So, if a bio-based version of a product is 10 % more expensive, but you save 20-30 % in shipping and import duty, suddenly it’s worth doing. This is where companies like Sonichem come in.


I’d kept in touch as a consultant for Sonichem since my Pera days, so when the company wanted to develop its technology from early-stage research to a commercial reality and asked me to become its Chief Chemist, I was pleased to accept. Our process uses material that is on the doorstep – woody biomass that is available anywhere in the country where there is forestry. Instead of shipping material thousands of miles from, for example, Brazil or North America, we can make chemicals in the UK without the transport miles that would otherwise be part of the process. On top of that, forestry captures carbon in a very short period of time – 30 years as opposed to hundreds of thousands of years in fossil fuels. It’s a really interesting way of making sustainable chemicals.

The road to becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC)

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has a range of membership categories that you progress through as you gain experience. You can join as an associate member while you are studying, and then apply to become a member once you have graduated. That opens up opportunities for further professional development, for example, to become a Chartered Chemist or Chartered Scientist, formally recognising your knowledge and skills – and how you apply them – and a commitment to maintaining high professional standards and continued learning. FRSC takes this a step further. As well as demonstrating your skills by working in the field for a period of time, you also need to show leadership and actively promote the chemical sciences. It’s about being an ambassador for the chemical sciences, getting involved with the RSC and giving something back.


One way of getting involved with the RSC is to join a special interest group. I sit on the committee of the Applied Materials Chemistry Group, a network of people with similar interests across the materials sector. These member networks form a large part of the RSC’s activities, opening up opportunities to share knowledge and experience with your peers, as well as to ask for advice. They are a great way of sharing knowledge; it’s amazing how much overlap there is between the various fields of chemistry, and the RSC is very good at getting people in different sectors talking to each other and solving common problems. There are also opportunities to collaborate with the RSC to co-host events such as the Chemical feedstocks for sustainable industry at Burlington House on the 1st of December, which Sonichem is jointly sponsoring.

Inspiring the next generation

Being a fellow is not just a job, it’s a vocation, a way of life. It’s something you do because you’re passionate about the subject and want to get the next generation interested in chemistry; a qualified chemist has a career for life, they will always be employable. The RSC’s Outreach programme is a great way of engaging with future scientists. There is a chemistry aspect to everything in life – the things you handle, the car you drive, the train you get on, the sandwich you eat – but when I visit a school and ask the students to name something where a chemist has had an impact on their life, the vast majority can’t. That all changes when I start asking questions: Did anybody have a painkiller this morning? Have you turned your mobile phone on? What do you think is in the screen? What’s in the battery? What’s the case made of? You’re wearing glasses, what are the frames made of? You’re wearing clothes, what’s the fabric made of? In a school lab, science is about mixing things in test tubes and seeing the reaction, and it’s amazing when they realise the impact that chemistry has in the real world.

Industry or academia?

I was told quite early on in my career that I would have to choose either an academic or an industrial career pathway, but that’s not been my experience at all. I’ve moved between the two without a problem, you just need to understand that the needs and challenges are different. Whatever the application, you can have an impact on the end product by just changing some very minor things in lots of cases. It’s about looking at what we are currently doing and asking how we can do it more sustainably. There is no need to choose between industry and academia – you can have both!

Help us Create Sustainable Ripples in the Chemicals Industry Through Crowdfunding

Sonichem Crowdfunding with Seedrs

Invest in bio-based chemicals and start a ripple of change

Petrochemicals permeate every nook and cranny of modern society, playing an integral role in the production of everything from plastics and pharmaceuticals to cosmetics and carbon fibres.(1) However, with the term ‘sustainability’ on everybody’s lips, the call to kick our fossil fuel habit has never been louder. It is the collective responsibility of industry giants, small companies and consumers alike to reduce their reliance on oil-based chemicals. Fortunately, Sonichem is making it easy to invest in the future of the planet, offering individuals and organisations the chance to become stakeholders and support our ultra-clean biorefinery technology that is transforming by-products from the forestry sector into sustainable, bio-based chemicals. We are seeking investment through crowdfunding, giving investors the opportunity to join us on our journey towards a cleaner, greener world.

An Exciting Investment Opportunity

Crowdfunding is all about coming together as a community to support exciting projects and businesses, and companies like Seedrsa prominent pan-European investment platform – make it easier than ever to get involved. Sonichem is giving investors the chance to buy shares* in our proprietary ultrasound biorefinery venture, by launching a crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs. This opportunity offers an easy way for eco-conscious individuals to become Sonichem shareholders, and prospective investors don’t need a hefty bankroll to participate. In fact, it is possible to secure a stake in Sonichem with as little as £10.

Why should you back our bio-based chemicals?

By investing in Sonichem, you’re committing to joining our mission to develop green, bio-based chemicals. In addition, shareholders will enjoy several benefits of ownership, such as a collective say in the decisions we make and the opportunity to share in our success. The Seedrs nominee structure means that the investment platform will generally exercise these rights on your behalf, while offering protection for your investment. The global transition towards sustainability is creating vast opportunities in the chemicals industry (2) so we are well positioned to make a significant impact, with the potential for substantial returns on your investment! Aside from financial benefits, there are so many good reasons to consider investing in Sonichem’s ultrasonic biorefinery technologies.

Help us to optimise the world’s natural resources

As a Sonichem shareholder, you can help us to repurpose the millions of tons of forestry and agricultural by-products that are either underused, wasted or destroyed each year. At the moment, only 55 percent of the wood from a felled tree emerges from the sawmill as construction timber, while the other 45 percent becomes woodchips and sawdust (3.) Downgrading the value of an already-dwindling source of raw materials already represents a significant waste of resources but, to make matters worse, these low-value by-products are often burnt, contributing to global CO2 emissions. With your investment, we can continue to transform the way that society handles woody biomass.

Join us in sending waves through the chemicals industry

Your investment in Sonichem will help us to expand our production of green chemicals from plant waste. Our patented biorefinery process harnesses both chemistry and ultrasound technologies to break down woody biomass into its three constituent components: sugars, cellulose and lignin. Ultrasound induces a powerful phenomenon called cavitation within the woody biomass, generating significant physical and chemical forces that turn every £1 of simple sawdust into £8 of sustainable, bio-based chemicals that, in turn, can displace finite petrochemicals in a wide range of materials and products.

Partner with us to benefit all stages of the supply chain

Maximising the value of our world’s green resources can benefit foresters and farmers, producers, and consumers alike. The forestry and agricultural sectors are under increasing pressure to minimise their impact on the environment, while increasing their outputs to feed and fuel an ever-growing population. In addition, producers are faced with looming net-zero goals, and are constantly seeking more sustainable materials to reduce their reliance on petrochemicals. Thankfully, consumers too are becoming increasingly environmentally-conscious; investing in our bio-based chemicals can provide them with the peace of mind that they are contributing to traceable, sustainable products with a low environmental impact.

Be a part of Sonichem’s success story

Now at the pilot stage, Sonichem has already received significant attention from investors and industry leaders. It was the winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s ‘Best Enabling Technology’ prize in 2021, and its technology was at the heart of a consortium that was awarded a £2.5 million grant to fund the building of its first-ever pilot plant. It has also won iCAST research awards, as well as a Scottish innovation award with Glasgow University, and is leading a consortium that has just been awarded a £600,000 Innovate UK collaboration grant to make net-zero materials that will replace plastics in car interiors. These excellent opportunities have been the driving force behind Sonichem’s past successes, but now, with the help of crowdfunding, we are looking to take our success one step further.

Our goal is to raise £1.1 million of investment to expand our pilot plant operations and fund the design of our first commercial biorefinery, to scale up our production of green chemicals to thousands of tonnes per year. Our future plans include international licensing of our technology, which will allow our process to break down waste from sugarcane and palm oil production into sustainable chemicals. Every little helps, so visit our Seedrs crowdfunding page today to see how your investment can help to create a greener, more sustainable future for us all.

* As with all investments, don’t invest unless you’re prepared to lose all the money you invest.


  1. The Future of Petrochemicals. 2018. International Energy Agency. Accessed: 26 October 2023. Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/the-future-of-petrochemicals.
  2. Bio-based platform chemicals market size. 2023. The International Market Analysis Research and Consulting Group. Accessed: 26 October 2023. Available at: https://www.imarcgroup.com/bio-based-platform-chemicals-market
  3. Antwi-Boasiako, C. and Acheampong, B. 2016. Strength properties and calorific values of sawdust-briquettes as wood-residue energy generation source from tropical hardwoods of different densities. Biomass and Bioenergy, 85, 144-152. doi:10.1016/j.biombioe.2015.12.006.

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