You are on page 1of 8

VCE Chemistry Units 1 and 2: 20072014

Introduction
Huge advances have been made in the application of the
fundamental principles of chemistry over the last 1015 years
leading to the emergence of new areas. These areas include
nanotechnology, green chemistry and biotechnology.
Contemporary studies in chemistry require students to develop an
understanding of how chemistry is better managing chemical
processes and non renewable resources by finding alternative and
less toxic solvents, more efficient processes with higher yields and
fewer wastes. This is a proactive approach to chemistry and is the
core of green chemistry. Students should also be encouraged to
consider the future possibilities of research, breakthroughs, and
any associated community, social or ethical issues related to the
emerging areas of chemistry.
To assist teachers to implement the VCE Chemistry Study Design
Units 1 and 2: 20072014, the following expert paper has been
prepared to provide up-to-date information and explanation of
important terms and concepts, and is of particular relevance to
Unit 2.

VCE CHEMISTRY UNITS 1 AND 2: 20072014

GREEN CHEMISTRY

Green Chemistry
By Dr Nicholas Derry
When polyethene was first synthesised, the chemists involved almost certainly
thought of a number of potential uses for their new chemical, but they would not have
been able to foresee the multitude of uses to which it would eventually be put. As a
result, they would also not have been able to predict the environmental problems
generated by just one of its uses, as plastic shopping bags. While the wider
community wishes to benefit from the development of new chemicals, there is now an
increasing expectation that not only their synthesis be considered, but also their use
and disposal. Fortunately, chemists possess the skills necessary to meet such
challenges. This approach forms the basis of what has become known as green
chemistry.
Paul Anastas and John Warner1 provided the first definition of green chemistry:
Applying fundamental knowledge of chemical processes and products to achieve
elegant solutions with the ultimate goal of hazard-free, waster-free, energy efficient
synthesis of non-toxic products without sacrificing efficacy of function.
They also proposed twelve principles of green chemistry, intended as guidelines for
practical chemistry:

It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it is


formed.

Synthetic methods should be designed to maximise the


incorporation of all materials used in the process into the final product.
Wherever practicable, synthetic methodologies should be designed
to use and generate substances that possess little or no toxicity to human health
and the environment.
Chemical products should be designed to preserve efficacy of
function while reducing toxicity.
The use of auxiliary substances, e.g. solvents, separation agents,
should be made unnecessary wherever possible and innocuous when used.
Energy requirements should be recognised for their environmental
and economic impacts and should be minimised. Synthetic methods should be
conducted at ambient temperatures and pressure.
A raw material feedstock should be renewable rather than
depleting, whenever technically and economically practical.
Unnecessary derivatisation (blocking group,
protection/deprotection, temporary modification of physical/chemical processes)
should be avoided wherever possible.

Anastas, P. T. & Warner, J. C. (1998) Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice,


Oxford University Press: New York
VICTORIAN CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT AUTHORITY
December 2006

VCE CHEMISTRY UNITS 1 AND 2: 20072014

GREEN CHEMISTRY

Catalytic reagents (as selective as possible) are superior to


stoichiometric reagents.
Chemical products should be designed so that at the end of their
function they do not persist in the environment and break down into innocuous
degradation products.
Analytical methodologies need to be further developed to allow for
real-time in-process monitoring and control prior to the formation of hazardous
substances.
Substances and the form of a substance used in a chemical process
should be chosen so as to minimise the potential for chemical accidents, including
releases, explosions and fires.

These twelve principles essentially fall into four groups, although it should be
appreciated that most examples of green chemistry in action could be placed under
more than one heading:

Efficient use of energy.


Hazard reduction.
Waster minimisation.
Use of renewable resources.

Efficient use of energy


The 2005 Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Yves Chauvin, Robert Grubbs
and Richard Schrock for developing a chemical process called metathesis. The word
metathesis means change places. In such reactions, catalyst molecules act to break
and make double bonds between carbon atoms in such a way that atom groups change
their position. This has been likened to the way in which couples may change partners
during a dance (an animation of this process can be found at
http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2005/press.html). While only
available for a relatively short time, this class of catalysts are already finding a wide
variety of applications, such as the synthesis of herbicides, additives for polymers,
fuels and polymers with special properties, and the development of pharmaceuticals.
The fact that catalysts can be used in small amounts and are able to carry out a single
reaction many times, allows the quantities of chemicals that are required and used in a
reaction to be kept to a minimum.
Reducing hazards
In Australia, CSIRO chemists are developing a new class of insecticide that works by
targeting the chemistry of the insects own hormones. Having determined the structure
of the insect steroid hormone ecdysone receptor, scientists are developing synthetic
molecules that interact with these receptors, causing the insects to moult prematurely
and so die. Such biomimicry is very environmentally friendly, as the insecticide is
only toxic to the target species. An added benefit of such specificity is the reduction in
the quantities of chemical required. Resistance problems are also unlikely to occur as
these receptors are required for the normal life cycle of the insect.
VICTORIAN CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT AUTHORITY
December 2006

VCE CHEMISTRY UNITS 1 AND 2: 20072014

GREEN CHEMISTRY

The pharmaceutical industry is based on the design of chemicals with maximum


efficacy with minimum toxicity. While this approach had been largely ignored by
other sections of the chemical industry for a long time, this is now changing. The
growth of plants and animals on the hulls of ships presents significant problems, not
the least of which is increased fuel costs due to the increased drag generated.
Organotin compounds such as tributyltin oxide (TBTO) have been used as an
antifoulant on ships. While TBTO is effective, it also persists in the environment and
has acute toxic effects on many marine animals. This has lead to the development of
an alternative which was as effective at keeping the ships hull clear, but without the
associated environmental toxicity. 4,5-dichloro-2-n-octyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one,
marketed as Sea-Nine , is acutely toxic to the marine animals that grow on the hulls
of ships, but has a half-life of twelve hours in seawater and 1 hour in sediment. This
means that Sea-Nine does not accumulate in many marine animals, such as
shellfish, to the same extent as TBTO, which is important to communities reliant on
shellfish.
Solvents such as tetrachloromethane, chloroform and perchloroethylene have
traditionally been used in large quantities in the chemical and service industries, such
as dry-cleaning. They pose a significant threat to the health of the people in those
industries, to say nothing of the attendant fire and explosion risk. These solvents have
now been replaced in many situations by supercritical carbon dioxide. Supercritical
carbon dioxide is a fluid with physical properties between those of liquid carbon
dioxide and gaseous carbon dioxide. Since it has a lower surface tension than a true
liquid, it is able to more easily spread out over a surface, while maintaining the true
liquids capacity to dissolve substances. This makes it especially suitable for
extraction type applications, such as dry-cleaning. It also has the added advantage that
materials such as leather and fur, that cannot be cleaned by the more traditional
solvents, can be safely cleaned with supercritical carbon dioxide. Supercritical carbon
dioxide is now used in a wide variety of applications including the decaffeination of
coffee and tea.
Cleaning up after chemical discharge is becoming an increasingly costly activity for
companies providing a positive incentive for them to employ green chemistry in
reassessing their processes. In 2004, the DuPont company agreed to pay US$600
million for the environmental damage caused by the release of perfluoroctanoic acid
(PFOA), a chemical used in the manufacture of Gore-Tex and Teflon. DuPont has
since changed its manufacturing process so as to use supercritical carbon dioxide,
rather than PFOA.
Minimising waste
Zoloft is a pharmaceutical used in the treatment of depression. Its active ingredient
is sertraline. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer has achieved a 60% reduction in the
quantities of raw materials used to make sertraline following a detailed analysis of the
production process. This has enabled what was previously a three step process to be
condensed into a single step. Pfizer was also able to replace the previously used four
solvents with the more benign ethanol, thus removing the need to distil and recover
each of the four previously used solvents.
VICTORIAN CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT AUTHORITY
December 2006

VCE CHEMISTRY UNITS 1 AND 2: 20072014

VICTORIAN CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT AUTHORITY


December 2006

GREEN CHEMISTRY

VCE CHEMISTRY UNITS 1 AND 2: 20072014

GREEN CHEMISTRY

Using renewable resources


The need for the raw materials used to produce chemicals from renewable sources
wherever possible, and not deplete finite reserves is becoming increasingly important
as the use of resources accelerates. Polylactic acid polymers (PLAs) are a class of
recyclable, biodegradable polymer with the potential to bridge the gap between many
synthetic polymers and natural polymers such as silk, cotton and wool. They are
synthesised from lactic acid, which can be derived completely from renewable
sources. The properties of PLAs allow their use in a wide variety of applications, such
as a clothing fibre and as a packaging material. Cargill Dow LLC has developed a
synthetic process for PLAs that uses up to 50% fewer fossil fuel resources than
polymers derived entirely from petroleum products. In addition, the process removes
the need for organic solvents and other hazardous materials, while the use of catalysts
achieves very high yields, reduced energy demands, and completely recycled byproducts of the process.
In the US, researchers have developed a biodegradable composite material consisting
of flax yarn embedded in a soy protein polymer resin which has tensile properties
comparable to steel. This composite material is capable of being used for low-load
indoor building applications. Not only is this material biodegradable at the end of its
useful life, but it is made from renewable resources, reducing dependency on
materials derived from petroleum based sources.
Summary
Chemistry in the natural world most often occurs at ambient temperature and pressure,
while chemistry in the industrial world frequently employs extremes of both
temperature and pressure. Spider silk has an equivalent strength to Kevlar, yet all that
spiders require to synthesise silk are the products of the digestion of insects and
enzymes. In contrast, much less benign reagents and conditions are required for the
synthesis of Kevlar. By looking at how nature solves chemical problems, green
chemists gain clues as to how processes may be changed to make them more benign.
While there is often a temptation to think of green chemistry as a branch of
environmental science, there are significant differences between the two. This may be
best illustrated using the example of coal-fired power stations. The by-products of the
process of generating electricity from coal have significant environmental
implications, of which climate change is perhaps the most pressing. The
environmental scientists focus would be on the monitoring of the production of these
by-products and the means by which they could be cleaned or treated so as to
minimise their environmental damage. An idea currently being considered is that the
carbon dioxide produced by the combustion of coal could be stored underground, socalled geosequestration. The green chemists approach would be to think of an
alternative way of generating the electricity without producing carbon dioxide. If
there was not an alternative, they would then find a way of using the carbon dioxide in
some other process. As Paul Anastas and Mary Kirchoff (Green Chemistry Institute,
USA) say, Green chemistry is the design of chemical processes that reduce or
eliminate the generation of hazardous substances.
VICTORIAN CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT AUTHORITY
December 2006

VCE CHEMISTRY UNITS 1 AND 2: 20072014

GREEN CHEMISTRY

In a sense, there is nothing new in the ideas behind green chemistry. History has many
examples of chemicals that have stopped being used because of the negative effects of
their presence in the environment. Lead additives are no longer used in paints due to
concerns that their use impacts significantly on health. Petrol no longer contains
tetraethyl lead as an ignition promoter. Mercury and cadmium are no longer present in
batteries. What is fundamentally different about a green chemistry approach to the
production and use of chemicals in our society is that it is proactive rather than
reactive. Consideration is given to all aspects of a chemical, from its synthetic
process, to its fate once it has left the manufacturer and to the impact its production
has on the resources of the earth. While there are those who argue that having a green
chemistry outlook is not economically viable, the experience of those companies that
have embraced the concept would suggest the reverse, that there are significant
economic benefits, not the least of which is the increasing demand of consumers for
such an approach. The benign by design slogan has already proved to be extremely
effective and promises to become even more so as the world changes to meet the
combined challenges of climate change and resource depletion.

VICTORIAN CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT AUTHORITY


December 2006

VCE CHEMISTRY UNITS 1 AND 2: 20072014

GREEN CHEMISTRY

References
Websites

ACS Green Chemistry Institute


www.chemistry.org/portal/a/c/s/1/acsdisplay.html?DOC=greenchemistryinstitute
%5Cindex.html
This website forms part of the American Chemical Society site. It contains a great
deal of very useful information about green chemistry.
Green Chemistry Network
www.chemsoc.org/networks/gcn/
This website forms part of the Royal Society of Chemistry site. It contains a great deal
of very useful information about green chemistry, including resources for teachers.
Green Engineering
www.epa.gov/greenchemistry/index.html
US Environmental Protection Agency website that includes many resources and links
for teachers. It also features the US Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards,
which seek to recognise chemical technologies that employ green chemistry
principles. These could be used as case studies.
Monash Centre for Green Chemistry
www.chem.monash.edu.au/green-chem/
This website contains information about green chemistry in Australia, with resources
for teachers.
CD-ROM

Chemistry a pathway to Emerging Sciences in Victoria, CD-ROM, VCAA.

VICTORIAN CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT AUTHORITY


December 2006