Climate Change and Green Chemistry Technologies

When it comes to preventing climate change, you’re right to think about the big sources of carbon pollution like power plants and cars. But did you know that if each of us washed our clothes in cold water, it would cut residential carbon pollution by a total of 4 percent?  Plus, by doing so, we would save money on our home energy bills at the same time.  Cold water detergents now make it possible to skip the need to use hot water to clean our clothes, and it’s one of the break-through green chemistry technologies that help us mitigate climate change.

Green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances in the first place.  In addition to cold water detergents, EPA is promoting the development of other exciting green chemistries. Through our Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards we recognize the groundbreaking work of some the most innovative scientists and researchers in the U.S.

Many of the green chemistry innovations produced are not only safer, but more sustainable—saving resources and preventing or reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. To date, we estimate that the winning green chemistry innovations save over 21 billion gallons of water and eliminate 7.8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide releases to air each year.

Examples of the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge winning technologies include:

  • A new technology to make house paint that reduces the paint’s carbon footprint by over 22%, water consumption by 30%, harmful emissions by 24%, and water impacts like algae bloom by 27% while providing other water and air quality benefits.
  • A  vegetable oil-based fluid used in oil-filled high-voltage electrical transformers  that substantially lowers the carbon footprint and is much less flammable, less toxic, and provides superior performance compared to mineral oil-based fluids.
  • A technology that will effectively and economically turn CO2—the primary greenhouse gas—and carbon monoxide into plastics and coatings (that could be used in electronics and food and drink cans) and that require 50 percent less petroleum to produce.

If fully adopted into the marketplace in these applications, we could avoid approximately 180 million metric tons of annual CO2 emissions. While replacement of all plastics and polymers across the entire market with one technology is not be feasible, this example points to the surprising impact that some materials have on the climate, and how transitioning to a green chemistry technology can provide immediate benefits.

If there’s a sustainability or environmental challenge, there’s an opportunity for innovators to meet the need for a safer solution with green chemistry.  The possibilities are limitless.  Safer, smarter, lighter and more efficient materials to produce more fuel efficient vehicles.  Safer paints and application processes. Technologies to improve efficiency of industrial processes. Innovations like these could dramatically reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions before a vehicle’s wheels ever touch pavement, before a paint job reflects the first rays of sunlight, or before a factory makes its first ton of product.

Addressing climate change and devising adaptations will require the full expression of American innovation and ingenuity, and the examples highlighted above and countless others show that there is more than enough talent and ingenuity to transform, adapt and remain resilient as a nation in a changing climate.

We are currently accepting nominations for the 2014 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards, with applications due to the Agency by April 30th, 2014. Learn more here:

I’m certain that this year’s winning technologies will continue the legacy of remarkable innovations that result in human health, environmental, resource and climate benefits.

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