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The Promise of Green Chemistry
Posted on October 29th, 2015 by Christina Valimaki in Chemical R&D
Read an excerpt from the Elsevier whitepaper, Green Chemistry Innovation: A New Era of Growth for Industry to discover how systems biology and systems chemistry enable a holistic view of a biological system that is more than it’s sum of molecular components.Green chemistry, in particular renewable chemistry, creates the opportunity to improve the current earth impact of consumerism while offering a horizon of business benefit to the chemicals industry.
There have been many pivotal moments along the timeline of chemistry research. Parkes’ development of an early synthetic polymer in 1862 paved the way for the U.S. oil boom of the latter part of the 19th century as well as the modern petrochemical industry. Baekeland’s discovery of Bakelite in 1907 showed the world the immense potential of plastics in household use. Then in 1935, the invention of nylon by a team of DuPont chemists under Wallace Carothers brought about industrial-scale plastics via one of the most commercially successful synthetic polymers in history. But what if similar discoveries could give rise to alternative materials, chemicals and molecules that could minimize or even eliminate some of the industrial waste of existing processes, from sustainable sources? That is the promise of green chemistry. According to the Center for Green Chemistry & Green Engineering at Yale, “Green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances.” The problem this subject addresses is a vital one for future generations: how to provide the benefits of modern chemistry without generating toxic byproducts. While traditional chemicals have been engineered to do amazing things, they can have consequences which are difficult to contain or re-process, and often expensive to manage.
MEASURING EARTH IMPACT
While green chemistry’s effectiveness can be measured in terms of emissions levels—how much of a reduction has been achieved in levels of CO2, NOx, SOx, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), particulate matter, etc.—renewable chemistry in particular goes further. It introduces additional factors such as waste, landfill requirements, depletion of mineral reserves, and impact on air, water and soil. The key to understanding the renewable chemistry movement is sustainability at the source of the value chain. Renewable raw materials derived from sources such as plants (animals, too, in some cases), provide for ongoing feedstock sources, compared with the finite fossil fuels used in large volumes today. Further, an important principal is that renewable chemicals should never remain a long-term environmental problem once products made from them are discarded. They are recyclable or biodegradable within a reasonable time period. They are produced using processes that don’t consume much water. To qualify as a renewable chemical, then, the substance has to make the grade from the beginning to the end of its useful life in terms of the raw materials, processes, waste matter, emissions and byproducts. That means considering the physical footprint of a particular chemical over its entire lifecycle. For example, a renewable chemistry candidate would ideally produce no (or at least a very low level of ) harmful emissions. Its waste disposal would not be time consuming, hazardous or expensive. It would not require large volumes of landfill real estate, and would have the benefits of requiring little water and have minimal soil impact in harvesting its component parts, production, or disposal.
Here is one example, Polylactic acid. Read more about the properties that make Polylactic acid a groundbreaking development.
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