Green Chemistry And Sustainable Development: Next Industrial Revolution

August 9, 2021

In recent years, the awareness of harmful consequences of unmanaged industries on the environment has become an important area of conversation. Almost all industries, including the chemical industry, are widely understood to have played a role in the increasing rate of pollution and climate change. In this context, green chemistry has begun gaining considerable traction.

What is Green Chemistry?

Green chemistry, as a subdiscipline, was established around two decades ago as a reflection of the efforts of industry and academia to address the questions raised about the sustainability of the chemical industry. Essentially, green chemistry, also called sustainable chemistry, is the application of a set of principles to bring down and eventually eliminate the generation and use of environmentally hazardous substances in the design, manufacture, and application of chemical products. The discipline brings together multiple areas like synthesis, solvents, manufacturing processes, chemical catalysis, etc., to make the industry as environmentally harmless as possible. 

Principles of Green Chemistry

In 1998, the US Environmental Protection Agency published a set of principles designed to promote the discipline of green chemistry. The twelve principles of green chemistry are:

  1. Prevention: prevention is better than retrospective treatment
  2. Atom economy: to optimize resource efficiency and reduce wastage
  3. Less hazardous chemical syntheses
  4. Designing safer chemicals
  5. Safer solvents and auxiliaries
  6. Energy-efficient design
  7. Use of renewable feedstocks
  8. Minimize derivatives
  9. Better catalysts and catalytic processes
  10. Design for degradation
  11. Real-time monitoring, analysis, and pollution prevention
  12. Safer chemistry for accident prevention

Adhering to these principles will help the industry and chemical manufacturers to make their operations as harmless as possible.

What should the industry do?

Recent developments in green chemistry have allowed for accelerated research and development of greener raw materials, solvents, catalysts, and processes. The chemical industry has a key role in the journey towards sustainability by integrating the developments in green chemistry into manufacturing processes and techniques. The development of greener solvents and catalysts constitutes a major focus of green chemistry in recent years.

Generally speaking, green solvents should have low toxicity, availability, recyclability, and high process efficiency. Significant amounts of toxic, flammable, and volatile solvents are released into the atmosphere, resulting in water, atmospheric and wider atmospheric pollution. Green chemists have been engaged in figuring out environmentally friendly solvents, like water, ionic liquids, non-toxic liquid polymers, etc., and their combinations in the manufacturing processes of the chemical industry. Green solvents are applied to minimize solvent usage and processing steps to make the processes as sustainable as possible.

Other than solvents, catalysts are also crucial for all chemical companies. However, the current generation of catalysts is highly toxic, harmful, and expensive. Green chemists find better catalysts that are benign to the environment, like abundant metals, enzymes, and other organic compounds. The design and application of green catalysts is useful in two regards: to make the industrial processes eco-friendly and also to improve economic efficiency of chemical processes. 

It is clear that green chemistry will be one of the most crucial disciplines in the context of industries and the environment in the future. The field is still at an early stage, and manufacturers and chemical importers should keep a close watch on the developments in the discipline. The industry should also work on integrating green processes and raw materials into their processes, thereby making the industry as environmentally sustainable as possible.

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