Going Green On St. Patrick’s Day

On a sunny St. Patrick’s Day in Dallas, green chemists gathered in several venues at the ACS national meeting to discuss how to encourage more chemists to live green. One well-attended symposium in the Division of Organic Chemistry that mixed academic and industry scientists focused on transition-metal catalyzed reactions with a green twist.

UCLA’s Neil Garg spoke about nickel-catalyzed cross-coupling reactions that are inherently green for their atom economy, that is, most or all of the atoms in the starting materials end up in the products. Garg carried out the work in part using a grant from the ACS Green Chemistry Institute’s Pharmaceutical Roundtable, an industry group made up of pharmaceutical companies that are working together to develop more efficient reactions that are kind to the environment and don’t cost a pretty penny.

Shu Kobayashi of the University of Tokyo took a deeper look at using immobilized catalysts that are easily recovered and reused to help reduce waste. And symposium organizer Bruce Lipshutz from UC Santa Barbara discussed his efforts to carry out organic chemistry without using organic solvents. About 85% of the waste in a chemical reaction comes from using organic solvents, Lipshutz noted. His group has developed a micellar reaction system that allows just about any kind of organic reaction to run in water at room temperature. That is about as green as you can get.

The green session was followed by a panel discussion in which journal editors and directors of green chemistry institutes, including yours truly, fielded questions from the audience. The questions focused on the challenges for pursuing green chemistry and barriers that seem to be impeding broader adoption of green practices. Among the points discussed, one that stood out is that chemists need to adopt a different way of thinking as they approach their work.

The panel suggested that as academics go about teaching students and writing journal articles, and as industrial chemists help mentor their junior colleagues, they need to take the time to explain why a certain reaction pathway is taken and the difference between choosing one solvent over another. They should provide tangible numbers to show how beneficial a green process can be. These explanations are necessary, even if they seem obvious or simplified, because chemists too often assume everyone knows and understands the nuances of green chemistry, when actually many still don’t. Or many chemists simply don’t give green options consideration at all and stick with what they know–business as usual. The panelists advocated for journal editors to apply gentle pressure to their authors to describe these green attributes in research papers to help nudge the adoption of green chemistry forward.

These are teachable opportunities to help others see how going green is relevant to them, the panelists suggested. These opportunities are free, they noted, unlike research grants or R&D funds that pay for developing green technologies. The session was a little bit of preaching, but its goal was to serve as a public service announcement for green chemistry.

Author: Steve Ritter

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