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Green chemistry: definition and issues


Green chemistry, also known as sustainable chemistry, consists of developing and implementing processes that aim to reduce the generation of toxic substances throughout a product’s life cycle. Whether at the design, production, usage or disposal stage, chemical products are designed to minimize their impact on the environment and on health. The aim of green chemistry is to promote the use of renewable raw materials derived from biomass, to encourage the use of non-toxic products, and as far as possible, to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions. To understand the scope of green chemistry, we need to look at its twelve fundamental principles.

The twelve principles of green chemistry

Drawn up in 1998 by two American chemists, Paul Anastas and John Warner, the twelve principles that make up green chemistry aim to provide scientists with a framework for making chemical processes more environmentally friendly.

Principle #1: Pollution prevention at source

Prevention means minimizing the production of waste by producing as little waste as possible. This avoids having to treat and then dispose of waste.

Principle #2: The atomic economy

Saving atoms means minimizing the quantity of raw materials used, by optimizing the efficiency of chemical reactions. In this way, the atoms used in these reactions can be put to the best possible use.

Principle #3: Catalysis

A catalyst is a substance added to a chemical process to speed up the reaction. During the chemical reaction, the catalyst is transformed and regenerated. Its use not only saves on atoms, but also reduces waste, as it can be reused in future chemical reactions.

Principle #4: Designing nontoxic synthesis

The aim is to use and produce chemical processes with synthesis routes that are less hazardous for both humans and the environment.

Principle #5: Designing safer chemicals

The aim is to design chemical products that fulfil their function while being as low in toxicity as possible. This involves research and development aimed at reducing the content of conventional active substances as much as possible, in favour of substances of plant origin.

Principle #6: Reducing the use of solvents

The aim is to give preference to non-polluting solvents, or even, where possible, not to use them at all.

Principle #7: Real-time analysis

Regular checks are carried out to monitor chemical reactions and prevent the risk of pollutant emissions.

Principle #8: Reducing the risk of accidents

Encouraging the use of low-hazard substances to reduce exposure to accidents, fires and other harmful emissions.

Principle #9: Reducing the number of derivatives

The aim is to minimize modifications to molecules that could generate waste, such as protective groups.

Principle #10: Limiting energy expenditure

The aim is to limit consumption by opting for new energy sources or by using storage materials that will consume less.

Principle #11: Use biodegradable products

The aim is to encourage the use of chemical products which have little environmental impact when degraded.

Principle #12: Use renewable raw materials

The aim is to replace fossil fuels with renewable resources, thereby maintaining the efficiency of the chemical process, but with a greatly reduced environmental impact.

Once focused solely on performance, today’s chemical industry must combine process efficiency with a response to environmental challenges. Green chemistry is an approach that aims to address these concerns by developing safe and sustainable processes.

The challenges of the green chemistry approach

Although green chemistry is emerging as an attractive alternative to conventional chemistry, it is nonetheless difficult to deploy. The twelve principles aim to rebuild industrial processes. Industries need to be given time to roll out these measures on a global scale. This involves major investment in research and development, biotechnology and equipment.

This change has already begun, with many players, such as the Berkem Group, supporting the manufacturing transition by developing plant-based chemistry, one of the founding principles of green chemistry.

Through research and over time, the chemical industry will continue to play an active part in economic, scientific and technological developments in a way that is more responsible and sustainable for the environment and people.