Published 2018-06-26

This post is also available in Swedish

Mistra funds green chemistry research

There is much concern about all the chemical substances surrounding us in our everyday lives. To find greener and less toxic options, Mistra is now investing SEK 56 million in a new programme.
‘Green chemistry offers a range of interesting solutions that we want to look into further,’ says Christopher Folkeson Welch at Mistra.
The new initiative’s call for proposals will open shortly.

There is considerable concern in society about what the consequences of our extensive use of hazardous chemicals will be.

Sometimes the worry is unfounded, and is not unusual for those who want to induce us to buy ‘chemical-free’ products to exploit it. At other times, there are good reasons to consider what effects various types of substances have on both health and the environment.

‘The problem’s often that we don’t always know what’s dangerous. Neither do we know what happens when chemicals in small, harmless amounts accumulate in various organisms and are later concentrated higher up in the food chain,’ says Christopher Folkeson Welch, Mistra’s Programmes Director.

At its meeting in June, Mistra’s Board therefore decided to launch a programme about how design can be used to reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals. This will include chemistry and management of life cycles and risk.

Before the decision, an international expert group had developed a background report outlining the objectives and purpose of the programme.

‘The programme should, above all, look ahead to new and better solutions. But to do that, they’ll have to study the situation today as well.’

There is also a hope that the programme will succeed in developing test methods to analyse, in their entirety, the health and environmental effects of composite products. Today, these analyses are performed mostly for individual elements, which means we are poorly informed about the actual effects of the products around us in our everyday lives.

‘Green chemistry offers a range of interesting solutions that we want to look into,’ Folkeson Welch says.

The call for proposals will be published on Mistra’s website shortly. After that, all interested parties will have until mid-December to form a consortium and present proposals on what the focus should be. Who will run the programme is expected to be decided in spring 2019.

John Warner of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry in the US, one of the better-known advocates for green chemistry, was a member of the working group that developed the report on which the call for proposals will be based.

John Warner, Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry

At a Stockholm work meeting, he also held a lecture for the interested public.

According to Warner, chemistry must change if we are to be able to move towards a more sustainable world. But this does not mean, as some companies claim, that we will create products that are chemical-free.

‘It’s a bluff based on ignorance and fear. Instead, we’ll move towards increased use of green chemistry.’

To boost knowledge, he has written the book Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice. Translated into 50 languages, this has almost come to be regarded as a ‘Bible’ among those who advocate a transition to less-toxic chemistry.

Warner’s view is that resistance to the concept of green chemistry is based on many people’s failure to understand what it is, not least because most chemists have so far been trained along the same lines.

‘This can change with the type of programme Mistra is now about to start.’

Other than Warner, members of the international working group were:

  • Christer Hogstrand, toxicologist at King’s College in London
  • Søren Hvilsted, polymer chemist from Denmark
  • Sara Stiernström, Business Developer at Ragn-Sells Tyre Recycling
  • Peter Kant, who works on regulatory issues at the OECD in Paris.

Jointly with his colleague Paul Anastas, Warner has formulated 12 principles of green chemistry. In a shortened version, these are:

1) Pollution prevention
2) Atom economy
3) Less hazardous synthesis
4) Design safer chemicals
5) Safer solvents and auxiliaries
6) Design for energy efficiency
7) Use of renewable feedstocks
8) Reduce derivatives
9) Catalysis
10) Design for degradation
11) Real-time analysis for pollution prevention
12) Inherently safer chemistry for accident prevention

Links:

The background report will soon be available on Mistra’s website.

To see and hear John Warner talk about his view of green chemistry, click here.

Text: Per Westergård