Science Wednesday: Sustainability Through the Eyes of a Chemist

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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.