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Science Wednesday: Sustainability Through the Eyes of a Chemist

2009 November 18

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

As a research chemist at EPA for more than ten years, I have had the opportunity to be  at the forefront of developing novel technologies to achieve the Agency’s mission—to protect human health and safeguard the natural environment. I have also had the good fortune that this period has also marked the burgeoning of Green Chemistry.

There is no doubt that within the past 10+ years the field of chemistry has exploded with the integration of philosophies associated with Green Chemistry.  Very simply, one can envision and justifiably define Green Chemistry as “preventing pollution at the
molecular level.”

It follows, that if the pollution is not created in the first place, there is no need for clean-up and remediation technologies. The research undertaken where I work, the National Risk Management Research Laboratory in Cincinnati, Ohio has focused on applying the principles of Green Chemistry and merging them with the principles of chemical engineering.

The overall goal is to develop novel methodologies to produce organic chemicals with a minimized environmental footprint.  Our research has demonstrated that a researcher can use chemistry to influence process design as well as using novel reactors to design new chemical routes for organic synthesis.

As my research career in the area of Green Chemistry continues to grow, I feel that in order to move this field even further, I have to expand on this integration of chemistry and chemical engineering.

I believe that if one is take full advantages of the philosophies of Green Chemistry, researchers must begin to think holistically, and think past the “chemistry bench.” If you look at all the opportunities that exist for process improvements, one must not just be limited to the chemistry, but now must be looking at the plant and not just the bench.

This is where I developed the term Sustainable Chemistry.

image of the authorAbout the author: EPA research chemist Michael A. Gonzalez, Ph.D, has served as a primary investigator for Green Chemistry and Engineering projects. His focuses on the development of sustainable chemical processes, incorporating a holistic view of on-going chemistry and processing. He is currently the Branch Chief for the Systems Analysis Branch.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    November 18, 2009

    I skeptic to you about sustainable chemistry.
    Here, swamp drainage reclamation in Sumatera and Kalimantan, are cutting the molecular of biology, chemistry and physics of the forest and its soil. That’s paradox. We are cutting but you are trying to build.
    I’m sorry, here, we are destructing the planet that billion years evoluted.

  2. Johnny R. permalink
    November 19, 2009

    Even if 100% of all chemical engineering were made green, the ever-growing population would overwhelm and strip the remaining wilderness and whatever is left of the balance of Nature would be destroyed. How many people can the Earth support, and who wants to live on such an overcrowded, suburbanized, agribusiness, tree-farm planet just so a few people can be fabulously rich?

  3. The Refinishing Touch permalink
    November 19, 2009

    A really interesting post, thank you. One thing that’s clear about future sustainability developments is the enormous role played by science (and agencies such as the EPA). This work sounds fascinating and as a company that strives to work with chemicals that have a smaller environmental footprint, we’ll be keeping an eye on future posts and your updates on Sustainable Chemistry.

  4. sara permalink
    November 20, 2009

    Great post!
    Thank you so for sharing an important knowledge about the sustainable development in future. It just like a challenge, to “decouple” material progress and the environment, by putting them on parallel, complementary and hopefully mutually reinforcing tracks. In simple terms, this means maximising economic growth and environmental improvement at the same time.

  5. Johnny R. permalink
    November 20, 2009

    Sustainable growth on a World of limited resources is an oxymoron. To put it another way: A growing economy on a shrinking planet has no future. But apparently growth is an instinct, so people are driven to expand their economic power regardless of fatal consequences. Thus, the coal fired power plants and jet planes pump out pollution relentlessly – until the biosphere undergoes toxic collapse and life on Earth self-terminates.

  6. Ala ud din Jutt permalink
    June 25, 2014

    Nice post. I like it. This is useful for me. I have more knowledge about it

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