Steve Block, NXTLEVVEL Biochem’s Vice President of Business Development, received the 2022
American Coatings Award for the most outstanding conference paper on April 5 during the Plenary
Session of the 2022 American Coatings Conference. For his paper titled, “The Use
of Levulinates as Coalescing Agents in Water-Based Coatings,” Block was presented a sculpture and
a $2,500 cash award.
In his technical paper, Block addresses how development and implementation of affordable and
sustainable large-scale operations for the conversion of renewable resources to chemical building
blocks is becoming increasingly urgent and essential to reducing global dependence on fossil fuels
and minimizing carbon footprint. Citing NXTLEVVEL Biochem’s successful implementation of
commercial-scale manufacturing of second-generation, biomass-derived chemicals — with novel
technologies in bio-solvents based on the conversion of biomass to derivatives of levulinic acid that
were originally developed by GFBiochemicals — he highlights levulinic acid derivatives as key
technologies for moving toward petrochemical-free chemistry.
Block explains that, produced from agricultural waste, derivatives of levulinic acid, such as butyl
levulinate and ethyl levulinate propanediol ketal, can be used as sustainable alternatives to coalescing
agent materials, such as 2,2,4-trimethyl-1,3-pentanediol monoisobutyrate, 2,2-dimethyl-1-
(methylethyl)-1,3-propanediyl bis(2-methylpropanoate) and triethylene glycol bis(2-ethylhexanoate).
His paper provides a detailed discussion of the technology, application case studies, and
environmental impacts of this technology, demonstrating that performance of these levulinic acid
derivatives, along with the resultant lower use level in many resin systems, address industry needs to
reach targeted cost-performance criteria with sustainable chemistry.
Block reports that levulinic acid derivatives’ limited water solubility assists in lowering the minimum film
formation temperature (MFFT), as well as frequently enhances properties of the film, notably the
hardness. His paper also emphasizes that levulinates have an excellent health, safety and
environmental profile and contain up to 100 percent bio-based carbon, aiding their position to replace
traditional petrochemical coalescing agents.
Block has been active in the specialty chemicals industry for nearly 40 years and specializes in
developing strategies to commercialize new products. During his career, he has led both technical and
commercial teams bringing new chemical technologies to market and creating strategic partnerships
with a focus in home care, personal care, institutional and industrial cleaning, paints and coatings, and
agricultural chemicals. Block earned a BS in Chemical Engineering from Missouri University of
Science & Technology and an MS in Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management from
Wichita State University.