Green Chemistry

John Warner‘s an interesting and innovative chemist, but of all the things he said in a pre-interview, this was the most striking: there’s not a single regular chemistry Ph.D. program in this country that requires a course in toxicology. Think about that for a minute. You’re taught how to use and create lots of dangerous chemicals, but you don’t have to know how to deal with their toxicity. Or even that they are toxic — and not just in the lab, but everywhere out there in the real world.

Warner and Paul Anastas are the daddies of an adolescent discipline called “green chemistry” — based on designing chemical products and manufacturing processes in ways that drastically reduce (or even eliminate) environmental hazards.

In other words, green chemists design things that are made of benign components and that break down, at the end of useful life, into harmless or reusable elements. And they devise manufacturing processes that use nontoxic chemicals and don’t create polluting wastestreams. They invent industrial processes in which waste from the manufacture of one product becomes the raw material for another product (industrial ecology). They also figure out how to make products in energy-efficient ways — because fossil fuels are a major pollutant in their own right.

There are now, for example, companies making plastics out of corn; and pharmaceutical giants making popular drugs with 90% fewer solvents. What’s driving corporations to do this? Green chemistry’s only about 15 years old, but firms are already savoring the financial benefit (to the tune of millions of dollars) of cheaper inputs and negligible cleanup costs.

So, ROS people: this might be your first chance to ask a green chemist a question — what would you like to know?

John Warner

Director of the Center for Green Chemistry, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Buzz Cue

Former VP at Pfizer

Started Pfizer’s internal green chemistry program

Andrea Larson

Professor, Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, University of Virginia

Pam Marrone

Founder and CEO, Marrone Organic Innovations

Extra Credit Reading
Chris Mooney, The Right Chemistry, The American Prospect: Online Edition, April 8, 2006

Stephen Leahy, Scientists Set Sights on ‘Green Chemistry’, Inter Press Service News Agency, September 25, 2006

Robert Gavin, Making it easier to be green, Boston Globe, September 4, 2006

Elizabeth Weise, Green chemistry takes root, USA Today, November 22, 2004

Green chemistry, Wikipedia

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