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Product Opportunities in Recycling and Sustainability

Posted on August 16th, 2016 by in Chemical R&D

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The June 2016 issue of the German Chemical Society’s magazine, Nachrichten aus der Chemie, includes a fascinating interview with Dr. Klaus Kümmerer, chair of Sustainable Chemistry and Material Resources at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg and director of the Institute of Sustainable and Environmental Chemistry.

Kümmerer argues that researchers and the chemical industry can profitably view recycling and sustainability as fundamental approaches to be integrated into their innovations. By adapting new business models, industries can minimize entropic losses. 

In the healthcare industry, for example, Kümmerer predicts that changes in disinfection practices in hospitals will create greater demand for sustainable products. Kümmerer asserts that rather than following the current method of using liters of disinfectant to sterilize surfaces, hospitals in the future will buy products with self-disinfecting surfaces.  

Another example is pharmaceutics and personal care products. Kümmerer argues that all molecules that can escape into the environment should be quickly and completely biodegradable.

He points to the work of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, which modified the anticancer drug ifosfamide. To improve the drug’s absorption in the intestine and thereby reduce its adverse side effects, the Center’s researchers attached a sugar to the ifosfamide molecule. When Kümmerer’s team studied the degradation of the new drug, glufosfamide, it found that the entire molecule was biodegradable — it converted to carbon dioxide and water in the human body.  

Kümmerer recommends offering improved patent laws and other incentives to encourage industry to produce biodegradable drugs such as glufosfamide. Consumers who are unlikely to buy a biodegradable drug solely on the basis of its environmental friendliness will become interested when such a drug provides a benefit to them, such as better absorption and fewer side effects, as in the case of glufosfamide.

Kümmerer encourages researchers and the chemical industry to explore the potential of recycling and sustainability for their own products and determine what makes sense for their own processes.

I felt fortunate to meet Dr. Kümmerer this past April at the Elsevier Green and Sustainable Chemistry Conference, of which we was the chairman and where he shared a similar line of thinking. Surely it is in the very first steps of chemical product innovation, in idea generation for both potential markets and the chemistry to serve them, that hold the most promise for green chemistry’s practical advancement. 


 

All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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