Paul Anastas, Ph.D., director of the Green Chemistry Institute at the American Chemical Society, is often known as the “Father of Green Chemistry.” Anastas coined and defined that term in 1991, when he was chief of the Industrial Chemistry Branch of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He continued to foster efforts at developing green chemistry and engineering while serving as assistant director for environment in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He had responsibility for issues including climate change, green chemistry, oceans, sustainability, mercury, air quality, water and ecosystems, toxics, and environmental indicators.
On the eve of the 10th annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, Anastas discusses green chemistry and its challenges with the ACS News Service Weblog.
ACS News Service: What is green chemistry?
Paul Anastas: Green chemistry is the design of new products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances. This means that not only the structures of a final product can be designed to be non-hazardous but also each of the transformations along the way to manufacture of a product are designed so that they don’t use or generate hazardous substances.
ACS: How does it differ from traditional efforts
to reduce air and water pollution from chemical processes?
Anastas: We’re really talking about is the chemistry of sustainability. There is an implicit consideration life cycle impacts with the scope of green chemistry. Although traditionally pollution prevention was thought to focus on waste reduction and waste minimization, green chemistry includes and expands this focus to all stages of the life cycle. The importance of this expansion is seen through commonly reported achievements from industry where the greatest economic benefit as well as the greatest environmental benefits are being realized as much in the early stages of the process or product life cycle as they are in the latter stages.
ACS: What is chemistry for sustainability?
Anastas: Sustainability has been defined roughly as “the ability to maintain the development of the quality of life while not compromising the ability of our progeny to do the same.”
ACS: These efforts go far beyond the traditional bounds
Anastas: They do. Contributions from many disciplines will be required if sustainability is to become a reality. The intersection of molecular biology and engineering produces microorganisms capable of synthesizing chemicals from biomass. Advances in green chemistry employ reactions that use less hazardous substances and generate less waste. Improved products are designed through research in materials science.
ACS: What are the major scientific
challenges for green chemistry in the years ahead?
Anastas: The green chemistry programs implemented by government industry and academia on a voluntary basis have achieved success in reducing risk through the reduction of intrinsic hazard at the molecular level. We must answer some key questions in the future. What is the molecular basis of hazard – toxicological, physical and global? Can we use weak forces as a design tool in imparting performance as we have done with covalent forces? What is the pathway toward designing catalysts from first theoretical principles? Can we use energy in the place of matter to effectively carry out transformations catalytically on a commercial scale? Are the reaction types and feedstocks we use currently in chemical manufacturing the one’s we should be using in the next ten, twenty years? If we are to meet the challenges of sustainability, it will require that we address the problem at the molecular level as one part of the solution.
ACS: What are
your hopes and expectations from this 10th conference?
Anastas: When the scientists, engineers, business people, environmentalists, policy-makers, teachers and students come together at the conference, they are building collaborations around the power of the possible. They recognize that in order to move forward on environmental and economic progress, it will not be enough to simply focus on what is bad in the world and in the environment, we will have to design, develop and implement the good; the next generation of sustainable products and processes. This conference will be swimming in those innovations! The best thing that will come out of this conference is the sense of optimism for continuous improvement that our greatest Green Chemistry innovations of today will be exceeded by the innovations when we convene again next year.
Listen to another interview with Paul Anastas, courtesy of the Science and Society podcast here.