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Lesson Three: Applying the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry

Module Three: Designing Sustainable Solutions


Video Lecture

Solutions Drive Change

View the online lecture for the details necessary to understand this module's key ideas.

Learning Objective

At the end of this module, students will be able to:

State how the Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry can be used to create solutions to unsustainable practices in chemistry.

Determining what makes traditional chemistry unsustainable is only the first step in creating a greener world. The next, more important step is to develop and accelerate the design of chemicals and processes that are green from their inception. In other words, to produce real change, we must invent and implement solutions that eradicate unsustainable practices.

In this module, we will explore specific ways that chemists can overcome the challenges we face by applying the principles to four areas where we commonly find unsustainable practices in chemistry.

1. Reduce stoichiometric waste by use of catalysis and increase in atom economy

Most of the chemical waste in the world—billions of tons annually—results from the use of stoichiometric reagents. Stoichiometric reagents essentially represent a “brute force” form of chemical conversion, rather than a strategic and thoughtful approach. These reagents rarely carry out more than one chemical transformation before they have exhausted their usefulness. Fortunately, there are far more efficient alternatives—catalysts. Catalysts can carry out thousands, even millions of transformations before they are exhausted.

Furthermore, if we design new chemical processes by considering atom economy (the more efficient use of the atoms used in various chemical reactions) instead of yield, then we can save enormous amounts of time, energy, and money.

2. Reduce energy consumption

Conventional heating (typically in the form of some sort of fire) is an inefficient way to generate the energy required to create many common chemicals. However, new, more creative and efficient forms of heating such as the use of micro- or sound waves can significantly reduce waste, save energy and reduce carbon use, making the production process more sustainable.

3. Use alternative solvents

The solvents used in industry today are rarely efficient. They are also often volatile and toxic. Using new solvents, using water as a solvent, and creating reactions that are solvent free are ways that can reduce or eliminate this problem.

4. Draw on new forms of biomass

Most traditional chemistry feedstocks (natural resources) come from fossil fuels like oil and coal. Biomass from plants, natural oils, and polysaccharides provide renewable sources of raw material that make chemistry more sustainable.

The next module will focus on examples of real world solutions that green chemists have already created.

To explore this module's material in depth, view the lecture.

Key Points

  • Determining where problems lie is only half the battle in creating new and sustainable practices in chemistry.
  • In order to facilitate real change in the way we practice chemistry, we need to create and implement practical, cost-effective alternatives.
  • There are many places where we practice unsustainable chemistry, but four areas that need significant improvement are waste reduction, energy consumption, alternative solvents, and use of new biomass platforms as feedstocks.