The Greening of Chemistry

August 21, 2008 at 4:38 am Leave a comment

How and when did chemistry start turning green? Some of the answers can be found in the summer 2008 issue of Chemical Heritage (volume 26, issue 2, p. 26) “The Greening of Chemistry” (available online for free). Some interesting tidbits:

  • the original manufacturing process for ibuprofen generated more pounds of waste than pounds of drug
  • how and when the term ‘green chemistry’ was coined
  • what innovations in Zoloft manufacture enabled Pfizer to receive the 2002 Presidential Green Challenge award (Local note: Dr. Kenneth Koe, Reed ’45, was a member of the team that discovered Zoloft. He will be awarded the 2008 Vollum Award for Distinguished Accomplishment in Science and Technology next week at the 2008 convocation ceremony.)
  • guides to the Green Gurus: Anastas, Warner, Collins, and others

An insert in the article also describes an Oregon story: “Green Chemistry ‘Mussels Its Way into the Wood Industry”. The following is an abbreviated version of the insert:

Since the 1940s the wood manufacturing industry has used formaldehyde-based adhesives to manufacture plywood. Formaldehyde can cause watery eyes, coughing, wheezing, and skin irritation and it has also been classified as a known human carcinogen.

Kaichang Li, an assistant professor at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, has been exploring alternative adhesives. During a weekend crabbing trip in Newport, Oregon, when he and his friends failed to catch crabs, they plucked mussels from the water instead. Li was struck by the mussel’s tenacious ability to secure themselves to surf-pounded rocks using a protein that, flexible when freshly secreted, would gradually harden and stick to almost anything.

Ultimately, Li was able to mimic the protein using a modified form of soy flour and his invention was adopted by Columbia Forest Products, a hardwood product manufacturer located in Portland, Oregon. The soy flour adhesive replaced more than 47,000,000 pounds of toxic urea-formaldehyde resin and reduced emissions of hazardous pollutants at the manufacturing plants by 50-90%. Li’s invention won him the 2007 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award.


Entry filed under: In the News.

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