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Sustainable Raw Material Base and Green Chemistry New Raw Materials Create a New Set of Challenges for Green Chemistry

| Author / Editor: Prof. Kurt Wagemann / Marion Henig

Ever since Paul Anastas wrote the standard textbook on green chemistry, both the term itself and the principles behind it have become well established in the world of chemistry. The author of this article, DECHEMA CEO Prof. Kurt Wagemann, looks at how green chemistry is impacting the transition in the raw material base.

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Biotechnology engineer Franz Gwiazdowski keeps an eye on a fermentation process in a 5000 liter fermenter at the BASF Bio Test Center. White biotechnology will play a major role in making green chemistry a reality. (Photo: BASF)
Biotechnology engineer Franz Gwiazdowski keeps an eye on a fermentation process in a 5000 liter fermenter at the BASF Bio Test Center. White biotechnology will play a major role in making green chemistry a reality. (Photo: BASF)

When Paul Anastas published the book Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice in 1998, he put the aspirations for “soft chemistry” on a rational, pragmatic footing. At the time, Anastas was working at the US Environmental Protection Agency and he is currently responsible for the Agency’s R&D activities. The term green chemistry quickly gained widespread acceptance in the English-speaking world and other terms such as green solvents, green reagents, etc. soon followed. In Germany however, many people were more reluctant to embrace the term “green chemistry” because of its political connotations. “Sustainability” is currently the preferred term, although you now often hear the term green chemistry as well.

However that may be, the ten (later twelve) principles of green chemistry are well known and no chemist questions them. The list of rules includes the following:

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  • Use environment-benign solvents, preferably water, wherever possible
  • In addition, atom economy is an essential criterion for assessing the quality and elegance of a reaction.

The principles are now part of the university curriculum. In many cases, lab course content has been reviewed to eliminate “non-green” reagents and reaction steps. The quantities of reagents/batch sizes have been reduced, and the concept of atom economy should be familiar to every chemistry student. The chemical industry is firmly committed to the vision of sustainability. Starting with the debate on the environmental compatibility of plastics, lifecycle assessment (LCA) has become an increasingly important tool, and it is now standard practice to use LCA as a basis for comparing various process and product options.

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