EPA Green Chemistry

Uploaded by USEPAgov on 28.09.2011

NARRATOR: A science revolution in green chemistry launched 20 years ago is paving the way to
a sustainable world that supports a healthy and vibrant economy. The science builds on
great achievements by chemists and chemical engineers.
DR. ANASTAS: For 150 years or more chemists have been finding out ways to put together
new molecules and they’ve done it in a way that has achieved astounding things.
NARRATOR: Modern chemistry has improved our lives, provided an amazing array of consumer
products, put food on our table, and saved lives with new medicines. Yet, many of these
achievements have come with a price.
DR. ANASTAS: Now, with all of those accomplishments, there’s been one piece that had been missing
and that piece is ensuring that while we achieve those goals that we also don’t cause harm
to human health and the environment. That’s what green chemistry is all about.
NARRATOR: Green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce
or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances. EPA is at the forefront of this
green chemistry movement. In partnership with industry, innovations are moving from the
lab to the marketplace.
DR. ANASTAS: Green chemistry is something that EPA is advancing both by engaging with
the outside world – giving grants, engaging on education, industrial partnerships – but
also in research that goes on right at EPA labs.
DR. LEAZER: One of the things that we do best at EPA is finding innovative solutions to
real world problems. That’s what green chemistry is about. The research that we do has to be
focused on the needs of the country.
NARRATOR: Few needs are more pressing than the challenge to meet our transportation energy
demands. Biofuels promise to play a larger role, although obstacles remain. Promising
new technology developed by EPA engineers, called Membrane-Assisted Vapor Stripping,
can more efficiently separate water from the alcohol and cuts the energy demand in half
for making the biofuel. Less energy consumption means less air pollution and also reduced
manufacturing costs. Innovations are also leading to new ways to make nanomaterials.
EPA scientists are working to ensure that these tiny wonder materials being produced
for so many different products and applications do not cause harm to the public or the environment
DR. VARMA: We don’t use any toxic material at all to make these nanomaterials in the
first place; that is the key thing in our approach. We use sugar. We use antioxidant
as in tea, coffee, wine or wine waste, like in grape pomace.
NARRATOR: Dr. Raj Varma and his team have developed dozens of new and patented methods
for the chemical industry and others to make compounds in environmentally friendly ways
using nanomaterials as catalysts. The consumer products you use – clothes, cosmetics, cars,
and electronics, to name just a few – are made, for the most part, using a similar chemical
process. Various chemicals are mixed together in large amounts of potentially toxic liquids
– solvents – to get a final chemical product. Pharmaceuticals are made in this fashion as
well. 80 to 85 percent of the waste that is generated in pharmaceutical processes is solvent-related.
DR. LEAZER: So, if we can remove the solvent from a synthesis paradigm, we can remove a
significant amount of waste.
NARRATOR: EPA developed the spinning tube-in-tube technology that takes solvents and their waste
out of the chemical making process. At the pilot stage, this spinning tube-in-tube reactor
that’s being used in Dr. Michael Gonzalez’s lab, fits on a large table and can produce
2 to 12 tons of chemicals a year, the same as a large chemical reactor using solvents.
The technology reduces waste, produces chemicals much more quickly and reduces production costs.
To design greener chemicals, EPA scientists have developed computer software which is
used by molecular designers around the world. The tool is called T.E.S.T.
DR. LEAZER: So, what this allows you to do is, before you even walk into the laboratory,
you can draw the structure of the molecule that you’re thinking about making. Based
on that structure this software program will give you some estimation as to the toxicity
of that compound.
DR. YOUNG: The advantage of being able to predict toxicity by computer and not having
to go through a laboratory obviously saves time, saves money. A lot of these studies
that are done in a lab take years. We can do an evaluation in seconds on the computer.
NARRATOR: Green chemistry is being adopted and embraced by business and industry, but
for every product or industrial process that’s been reinvented in this sustainable and green
way, there are probably 100 that have yet to be looked at through the green chemistry
DR. ANASTAS: Green chemistry has shown us what’s possible. It’s a framework for
saying that we can design our products and processes so that they’re sustainable using
renewable materials, using manufacturing processes that generate less waste and use less toxic
substances, having products that aren’t of concern for our children or ourselves or
our ecosystem, and at the end of life these substances are going to go back into the environment
and degrade in innocuous ways. It’s shown us what’s possible. Now the question is:
Will we engage on this challenge – this great scientific challenge – with the urgency,
with the focus that is going to be needed? Quite frankly, with the focus that sustainability
demands? We can and I believe we will because we must.