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How green is your chemistry

Posted 17/04/2015 by sevans

Green chemistry has been a buzz term across chemistry for a number of years, based on the 12 principles developed by Paul Anastas and John Warner back in the late 1990s. Indeed, it would be hard to find a chemist anywhere that does not have these principles tattooed on their brain and influencing everything they do.

In our environmentally aware times, chemical companies too have attempted to apply the principles to their production operations, and have trumpeted their successes in their fashionable environmental reports.

But although such evidence has been presented as a fait accompli, with detailed information about the reduced water and energy consumption, waste reduction etc, on an individual company or organisation basis, for a science- based sector there has been a surprising lack of detailed analysis of these claims, and there has not been a way to compare and benchmark performance in this drive to greenness.

There is good news, therefore, from one group of researchers in the UK at the University of York, which has developed a ‘metrics toolkit’ to measure and evaluate how green a reaction actually is. Developed within the CHEM21 Innovative Medicines initiative project, a consortium if academics, pharma companies and enterprises working together to develop sustainable technologies for green chemical manufacture, the free toolkit is available to researchers and chemistry student around the world.

The toolkit is designed to facilitate a consistent, universal measurement of sustainability for reactions in both laboratories and commercial operations through the assessment of a range of criteria. Criteria include new calculations for measuring a reaction’s optimum efficiency, as well as renewable and waste percentages, together with a wide range of parameters covering health, safety, environment, energy and life cycles.

Each criteria is assessed and assigned a coloured flag, natural with green denoting ‘preferred’, ‘amber’ implying ‘acceptable with some issues’ and ‘red’ meaning ‘undesirable’.

The toolkit aids the comparison of new reactions with existing methods, highlighting research that is performing well in terms of its ‘greenness’ while suggesting areas where improvements might be possible.

AS James Clark, director of the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the university expressed it, the toolkit ‘is the culmination of our work with industry on identifying the critical resource and process factors that impact most pharmaceutical manufacturing processes. It shows a practical way forward on how the industry, and other chemical manufacturing industries, can continue to supply vital products for society in a sustainable way’.

Neil Eisberg - editor


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