As consumers and producers become more aware of the environmental impact of their life choices, green chemistry is growing as a way to more safely produce the products we enjoy every day.
“Green living" is spreading: reusable water bottles, hybrid cars, bamboo flooring, cloth shopping bags, rechargeable batteries, low-water washing machines, recycled electronics. The list goes on and on.
The chemical industry is catching up. Manufacturing is a giant customer. Chemistry plays a role in 96 percent of products.
The rise of “green chemistry" is inevitable. It’s also functional, safe, and versatile.
What Makes Chemistry Green?
A basic tenet of green chemistry: use chemical processes and develop chemicals that decrease – or even avoid – materials and methods dangerous to the environment. This should happen at all stages of a chemical’s existence: from initial conception through end-of-life disposal. Sustainability is crucial, too.
Green chemistry cuts down on pollution and waste. Production methods are less hazardous, as are the chemicals themselves. Chemicals are renewable if they are bio-based and obtained from renewable sources. These viable resources include farmed crops, agricultural and organic waste, other plant matter and microorganisms. These sources aren’t finite like fossil fuels.
What Are Its Applications?
Since chemicals are so pervasive in manufacturing, green chemistry has uses in many production areas, such as:
- Food processing
- Housing materials
The applications are as varied as the industry list above. Drug manufacturers are coming up with new ways to revolutionize the industry. The pharmaceutical company, Merck, teamed up with tech company Codexis to develop a greener way to manufacture sitagliptin, a treatment for type 2 diabetes. New components in the process are sustainable and biodegradable.
However, other industries have different applications for the chemicals they use. Manufacturers from the automotive industry to those in tire production and many in-between, rely on water-based mold releases because of their environmental advantages. Chemicals are required in these industries because they create a slip effect between mold and material. However, this effect is also achievable with water-based releases, so manufacturers can switch to be environmentally conscious.
What’s the Forecast?
Green chemistry is already big business, and it’s expected to grow quickly. In 2015, the global market for green chemicals was almost $52 billion. Within five years, predictions estimate a rise to nearly $86 billion.
Renewable alcohols have accounted for the greatest share – about 41 percent – of the green chemistry marketplace. That’s not expected to change much. Raw materials needed to produce green chemicals are just slightly behind. With the introduction of alternatives, the demand for current resources might decrease.
The third-largest share, at just over 8 percent, is bio-based organic acids, ketones and aldehydes. These sales will likely increase.
Why Is the Market Growing?
The call for green chemistry will increase because of three factors. Eco-friendly consumers are becoming more aware of the possibilities. They want less hazardous products with minimal environmental impact.
Local, regional and national governments are exerting more control over the production and disposal of petrochemicals. Sustainable chemicals, therefore, have more appeal to many manufacturers.
For instance, as of 2016, California has the most stringent chemical management laws in the country. One part of its legislation: the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control has the power to regulate any chemicals used in manufacturing.
Petroleum itself, a starting point for many chemicals, presents concerns. It’s not a renewable resource, and its price fluctuates greatly. Consequently, petrochemicals are very expensive for manufacturers. Also, disposal is environmentally problematic.
How Can the Industry Develop?
Due to outside influences, the future of green chemistry looks great. The industry can enhance its growth by requesting and supporting government policies that bolster it, including funding research, expanding education in the field and exploring foreign markets.
The green chemistry industry must also engage in outreach. Potential suppliers and markets must increase their knowledge of what already exists, and what’s possible. Partnerships should develop to address the most pressing needs.
As the field of green chemistry grows, it must collect data about both progress and setbacks. This information will lead to more improved and safer products and processes.
About the Author: Megan Nichols loves discussing innovations in technology and science. Her favorite topics are astronomy, the environment, and psychology. If you are interesting in learning about other astronomical wonders, join the discussion on her blog, or follow her on twitter.