EPA’s Green Chemistry for a Sustainable and Healthy Economy

EPA’s Green Chemistry for a Sustainable and Healthy Economy


[NARRATOR]: The 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 STT®. [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 lens. [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.

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