JUNE 2011
A Publication of the
Applied Math and Science Education Repository

The AMSER Science Reader Monthly aims to provide educators with a useful package of information about a particular topic related to applied math and science by combining freely available articles from popular journals with curriculum, learning objects, and web sites from the AMSER portal. The AMSER Science Reader Monthly is free to use in the classroom and educators are encouraged to contact AMSER with suggestions for upcoming issues or comments and concerns at info@amser.org.

This month's AMSER Science Reader Monthly topic is Green Chemistry.

Chemistry: It's not easy being green
Article by Katharine Sanderson
Synopsis and resource annotations by Max Grinnell

article photos

The environmental reputation of industrial chemistry has not always been praiseworthy, and folks still remember the Union Carbide pesticide plant incident or Love Canal, New York and many others. Green chemistry is not necessarily only concerned with using chemistry to develop green technologies; it is also concerned with redesigning chemical processes from the ground up to make industrial chemistry safer, energy-efficient, and essentially green. This facet of greening chemistry is the subject of an article by Katharine Sanderson, which appeared in the January 2011 edition of Nature. The article begins by exploring some of the history behind prominent chemical disasters and discharges, including the 1984 Union Carbide incident at Bhopal, India which killed over 3,000 people. As a result of this incident, many chemical companies found themselves responding to more stringent environmental regulations, and the "green chemistry" movement began.

Paul Anastas coined the term "green chemistry" in 1991 while he was working for the Environmental Protection Agency. The idea behind greening chemistry is that chemical processes can, and should, be redesigned to minimize or eliminate toxic waste from the outset, rather than paying to clean up the waste later. Anastas remains a fervent advocate of green chemistry, noting, "It's more efficient, it's more elegant, it's simply better chemistry." Green chemistry is still very much a work in process, and part of the problem includes changing hearts and minds, technical limitations, costs, and so on. The article proceeds to talk a bit about the initial creation of a set of principles by Anastas and his colleague John Warner that helped define green chemistry and articulate a set of basic principles. Perhaps not surprisingly, the pharmaceutical sector has embraced green chemistry, as it has the most to gain. Part of this gain comes from the decrease in the environmental factor or "E-factor." Pharmaceutical plants usually generate 25 to 100 kilograms of waste per kilogram of product, thus there is great room for improving efficiency through green chemistry. There have been some real successes with reengineering pharmaceutical processes. For example, Pfizer, the creator of Viagra, was able to decrease its E-factor from 105 to 8 and also reduce the E-factor for other drugs including Lyrica from from 86 to 9.

The piece goes on to discuss some of the special challenges faced by bulk-chemical manufacturers who hope to adopt some of the principles of green chemistry. These manufacturers deal with products that are produced in larger volumes than pharmaceuticals, and it is more difficult for these manufacturers to adopt some of the green principles. This is because their industrial processes are already highly optimized (with E-factors already between 1 and 5), and it is also difficult to redesign physical plants and production sites that have a use-life of 30 to 40 years. Other roadblocks to the adoption of green chemistry are rather thorny technical ones, and they are not without their own special challenges. Green solvents that have been reengineered after decades of laboratory work remain less efficient than widely used chlorinated solvents. And beyond the technical challenges, the way chemists are educated is also a barrier. They spend all their time learning the chemical process, but spend little time learning about the larger issues. As chemical engineering Eric Beckman of the University of Pittsburgh states in the article, "In the United States, chemists get trained rigorously in chemistry, but don't see any engineering, product design, or life-cycle analysis."

The piece concludes with a bit of optimism as the reader learns that Anastas, in his work as the EPA's research chief, continues to spread the green-chemistry approach at staff meetings at the agency's labs around the country. His also hopes that the EPA will move from a culture of regulating and banning to one that promotes designing products that reduce or completely eliminate the use of hazardous substances from the very beginning of their life-cycle.

Found below is a list of useful resources that will illuminate and enhance understanding of the topics found within this article. The first link first link will take interested parties to a website from the American Chemical Society where they will find classroom resources that address green chemistry, such as lesson plans and lab exercises. The second link leads to a number of Interactive Teaching Units on green chemistry created by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Moving right along, the third link will whisk users away to the Greener Education Materials for Chemists site. Here visitors will find a database of green chemistry materials, including lecture materials. The fourth link leads to a creative site from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which offers software programs that can help students learn about the hazardous substances in chemical reactions and how to create green synthetic materials in the laboratory. The fifth link leads to the very authoritative Environmental Chemistry website, which includes information on green renovation projects and the use of green chemistry in building sustainable residential and commercial properties.

Green Chemistry Educational Resources
Created by the American Chemical Society (ACS), this website offers a set of lesson plans, multimedia demonstrations, and lab exercises for educators interested in introducing their students to green chemistry. First-time visitors can scroll down to the "Activities and Experiments" area where they will find activities that include "Bleaching With Green Oxidation Chemistry" and "Cleaning Up With Atom Economy," Moving on, visitors can also take advantage of the "Online Resources" area. Here they will find links to materials developed at the University of Oregon and the Green Chemistry Network. Finally, the site is rounded out by the "More Educational Resources" area, which includes links to National Chemistry Week and the ChemMatters magazine.
Interactive Teaching Units: Green Chemistry
As more and more organizations go "green," it makes sense that a number of educational institutions are participating as well. One such institution is the University of Glasgow, which has developed this series of "green" chemistry teaching exercises known as Interactive Teaching units (ITUs). Currently, the site contains four ITUs, including "The Age of Refrigeration," "Mercury, Membrane or Diaphragm," "Industrial Chemistry: Titanium Dioxide," and "Green Chemistry: The Atom Economy ." The modules all draw on the concept of problem based learning to introduce key concepts of green chemistry and sustainability in an industrial context. All of these materials can be used in the college classroom in order to develop both teamwork and communication skills.
GEMs: Greener Education Materials for Chemists
The motivating principle behind green chemistry is "the redesign of chemical transformations and processes to reduce or eliminate the use of materials that are hazardous to human health and the environment." The Greener Education Materials (GEMs) for Chemists website provides over 100 resources related to green chemistry, including course syllabi, lecture materials, and laboratory exercises. Visitors can search the website by keyword, category, or keyword and category. Also, users can browse through each category, including "green chemistry principles," "target audience," and "chemistry concepts." Materials in the database include "'Greening Up' the Suzuki Reaction" and "A Greener Synthesis of Creatine."
EPA: Green Chemistry Tools and Literature
Green Chemistry, as its name implies, is an environmentally friendly practice of using chemistry to prevent pollution. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created the Green Chemistry Expert System software that can be freely downloaded from this site. The program can be used to assess hazardous substances in chemical reactions, learn about green synthetic methods, design safer chemicals by modifying existing ones, consider alternatives to traditional solvents, or search for additional reference information. Each function is contained in one of five modules included in the program, and they give results based on user input for specific conditions and applications. Detailed instructions for installing and using the program can be found on this site.
Produced by Kenneth Barbalace with help from Roberta and Julia Barbalace, the EnvironmentalChemistry.com website supplies innumerable environmental, chemistry, and hazardous materials information and resources. Under the Environmental Issues tab, students can learn about the chemical and physical properties of asbestos, the Chernobyl disaster, and the proper way to handle household chemicals. One addition to the website is the Emergency Response Guidebook, which is used during the initial phase of a Dangerous goods / Hazardous Materials incident. The numerous, in-depth chemical resources include a directory of common chemicals used in industry and household products, an article explaining the structure of atoms, and a periodic table with data on element properties.

AMSER Science Reader Monthly is published by Internet Scout at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in conjunction with the National Science Digital Library with funding from the National Science Foundation. If you have questions or suggestions please e-mail us at info@amser.org.