Even chemistry is becoming green

We are inundated with new green technology and products every day — even chemistry is becoming green.

For instance, Procter & Gamble recently released an all-new line of household cleaning products, from glass cleaner to bleach, all based on the use of safer materials for the consumer and the environment. In a nutshell, that is the essence of green chemistry.

Responsibility for the development of chemical products has always been with the formulator, chemists who understand molecules and what they do. In the past, emphasis was placed on the function or performance of new products, in addition to their being cost-effective to use. That part of the process has not changed. Formulators in green chemistry combine their knowledge of molecules and performance with the principles of green chemistry and toxicology to develop products that are safer to use and to dispose of after their function is complete.

A chemical formulator can become familiar with green chemistry by reading technical journals and textbooks dedicated to the field of green chemistry in addition to enrollment in college courses, both undergraduate and graduate, that teach the principles and their application. The University of Massachusetts at Boston offers a doctorate in green chemistry. (Dr. Amy Cannon, a Goffstown High graduate with an undergraduate degree in chemistry from St. Anselm College was the first candidate to receive the UMB degree in 2005.)

Graduate green chemists work in education, product development and research to teach others, expand the knowledge of applications and study variations in molecules and their effects on the character and performance of new materials.

The keys that “unlocked the door” to green chemistry were forged by Dr. Paul T. Anastas and Dr. John C. Warner with the publication of their book, “Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice” in 1998. Pockets of work had been ongoing for years to develop safer products in industries, such as virtual elimination of toxic cyanide salts in cleaning and plating baths for metal finishing and manufacturing electronic materials, but the Anastas-Warner work brought cohesiveness and formality to the practice of green chemistry, with their 12 defining principles that have since become the foundation of the science.

Their work sparked worldwide interest in green chemistry. The American Chemical Society has a Green Chemistry section within the Environmental Chemistry Division. Government programs at the state level are being developed to encourage the incorporation of green chemistry and green engineering.

Several winners of Presidential Green Chemistry Awards demonstrate the scope and potential impact of new technologies in green chemistry:

• Professor Kaichang Li of Oregon State University and Hercules Inc. have developed an adhesive made from soy flour, which has the additional benefit of being a renewable resource, rather than being made from petroleum products. The new material is stronger than the conventional adhesive and costs less to produce.

• Milliken & Company has developed a new adhesive for carpet tiles that eliminates the evolution of formaldehyde into the air.

• Wolman AG has a new wood preservative for above-ground decking, fences and residential projects that is fully organic and contains no metals, replacing chromium and copper arsenate. As with the other examples, the cost of the new preservative is comparable to or less than the copper-based alternatives.

As in other areas of technology, being green can result in saving money. The principles of green chemistry are rapidly becoming the paradigm, not only for chemistry and the development of new materials and products, but for how we live our lives in greater compatibility with the environment. Even chemistry has become green.

Jack Fellman of Greener Chemistry Associates LLC can be reached at 603-487-2235 or jfellman@GreenerChemistryLLC.com.