What is green chemistry? By one definition it’s “finding creative and innovative ways to reduce waste, conserve energy, and discover replacements for hazardous substances.”
The 20th Century saw staggering advances in chemistry and chemical engineering. The ways that new chemicals were put to use changed human history and society in drastic ways that most people living now can’t fully comprehend. Just two examples of pioneering chemistry – the creation of antibiotics and chemical fertilizers – radically shifted the way people today think about surviving, thriving in, and changing their world.
Unfortunately, many of these chemical breakthroughs have unforeseen consequences and highly negative consequences for environmental and human health. Some of those consequences were immediately evident: animal populations experienced rapid die off, fetuses exposed to certain drugs did not develop normally, crops failed. Other problems, like long-term mental impairment from solvent exposure, researchers are still studying and trying to understand. Green chemistry is the contemporary attempt to understand the results of last century’s great chemistry experiment and then altering the chemistry involved to derive more benign or even beneficial ways to solve problems and create solutions in our everyday lives.
AEC Systems is always looking for these types of solutions. We strive continuously toward a zero waste goal in our parts washers – zero waste meaning no impact on the environment, nothing to dispose of, no emissions, not even heat results from our parts cleaning systems. We are very interested in possible and potential uses for green solvents, which are solvents made of vegetable processing extracts that can be used to clean or degrease. The green chemistry at work in finding methods of bioremediation for chemical or oil spills is something we anticipate being able to use in other ways in the future to solve problems that are perhaps not as tragic, but are still sticky and troublesome.
If scientists can produce chemical solutions that will prevent pollution or other negative environmental impact in the first place, there will be nothing to monitor, regulate, or clean up. Over time these innovations can only lead to safer products that can be manufactured at lesser expense. The American Chemical Society has developed 12 Principles of Green Chemistry. They are:
- Atom Economy
- Less Hazardous Chemical Syntheses
- Designing Safer Chemicals
- Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries
- Design for Energy Efficiency
- Use of Renewable Feedstocks
- Reduce Derivatives
- Design for Degradation
- Real-time Analysis for Pollution Prevention
- Inherently Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention
These principles are critical to the development of a better, healthier future for everyone, and, frankly, it’s an exciting time to be involved in chemical innovation and problem solving.