FROM FUSION: AN INDEPENDENT EDUCATIONAL PUBLISHING MAGAZINE

A new leaf: Chemistry goes green

Professor Martyn Poliakoff and Dr Samantha Tang on a different branch of chemistry that promises to be less harmful to the environment

Today our lives are longer, better and richer thanks to chemistry; advances in chemistry have improved human health and made food more plentiful. However, the global population has increased dramatically and the demand for chemicals - medicines, insecticides, textiles, fertilisers - is increasing. Within a few years, current methods for making these chemicals will struggle to keep up. So, chemistry is rising to the challenge by undergoing a big revolution. We need new methods and new ideas to produce chemicals in the future and we need to start inventing now so that we are ready in time.

The problem is in two parts. Firstly, most chemicals are made directly or indirectly from petroleum. We are burning more and more of this vital resource in our cars, lorries and aircraft, so the price of oil will increase as supplies get scarcer to the point where it will probably be uneconomic to use oil as a source for many chemicals.

Secondly, many chemical processes not only make the chemical the manufacturers actually want, but also generate unwanted salts or side-products. Large quantities of oil-based solvents then have to be used to dissolve out the impurities and purify the compound. Solvents are also important for helping mix chemicals and for stopping reactions getting so hot that they explode. At the end of the production cycle, the manufacturer has to dispose of all the waste chemicals and solvents that cannot be recycled. Usually this waste is burnt or placed in landfill, both of which can cause environmental damage. This problem needs to be solved if we are to maintain our quality of life. The answer is green chemistry, a new way of designing and using chemical processes and products.

Green chemistry was born in the Nineties in the US. The idea is simple: to use chemicals, wherever possible, which are harmless to both life and the environment. Green chemistry is really a way of thinking rather than a strict set of instructions. The main ideas are collected in a set of 12 principles (see box). Several of the principles are quite obvious but, together, they provide a very useful checklist for chemists to judge how green their process is. The more principles that are obeyed, the greener the process is. If we can obey them all, we will be making chemicals far more productively than at present.

What does green chemistry mean in practice? One US pharmaceutical company needed 10kg of solvent to produce each 100mg tablet of their leading antidepressant. Redesigning their process based on green chemistry principles reduced the waste to only 4kg.

Green chemistry can also replace toxic chemicals. For example, ships need to be painted to prevent barnacles from fouling the hull and slowing the ship down. The tin compound traditionally used in the paint takes nine months to decompose in the sediment on the ocean floor and can cause reproductive damage in marine organisms. The replacement found by green chemists at the company Rohm & Haas decomposes in one hour and causes no reproductive harm.

Most importantly, some chemicals are now being made from renewable vegetable sources. Polylactic acid, a plastic which can be used for packaging for things such as sweet wrappers, can be made from agricultural waste such as stalks, leaves and wheat straw. This means that carbon dioxide from the air is captured and turned into useful chemicals.

These examples are just the start. What is holding things up is a shortage of young scientists trained in the methods of green chemistry. If you want to help, you can join in. Apply to study chemistry at university. Several UK universities are beginning to teach green chemistry so when you apply, ask what the university is doing about it.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff is a research professor in chemistry. Dr Samantha Tang is the EPSRC (energy and physical sciences rsearch council)-sponsored public awareness scientist at Nottingham University, www.nottingham.ac.uk/chemistry

The 12 principles of green chemistry

P Prevents wastes

R Renewable materials

O Omit derivatisation steps

D Degradable chemical products

U Use safe synthetic methods

C Catalytic reagents

T Temperature should be ambient

I In-process monitoring

V Very few auxiliary substances

E E-factor, maximise feed in product

L Low toxicity of chemical products

Y Yes, it is safe!

WEB WATCH

LearnNet

Interesting resources for schools and colleges

www.chemsoc.org/networks/LearnNet/green-chem.htm

The Green Chemistry Network

Find out how you can do your bit

www.chemsoc.org/networks/gcn/about.htm

The Royal Society of Chemistry

The largest chemistry institution in Europe

www.rsc.org

education.independent.co.uk/magazines

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Drama Teacher - Hull and Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: The JobRandstad are currently in need of ...

Reception Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is the UK mark...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments