Green chemistry - an exciting challenge

On 15 April 2010 The All Ireland Group organised its first event 'Green Chemistry in Ireland: including highlights of Environmental Technology projects funded by the EPA' at The Helix, Dublin City University. Previous related events recently organised by the Republic of Ireland group, included lectures on biofuels, and a Dragon's Den debate entitled 'The Kyoto Protocol: An Irish Perspective'.

Our aim was to introduce a forum for Green Chemistry projects funded by the EPA, where Green Chemists in academia can exchange perspectives with their counterparts in industry and government agencies. Many of the EPA projects were presented by the EPA students themselves, providing them with an invaluable opportunity to enhance their scientific communication skills as part of their postgraduate education. During the conference, speakers from the USA, Germany, and the Republic of Ireland showcased green initiatives in global pharmaceutical and chemical companies.

The EPA in Ireland research programme (STRIVE) places a particular emphasis on environmental technologies as a key area in which research and innovation is essential both from a sustainable socio-economic perspective, to deliver environmental outcomes and to build the 'ideas' component of the smart economy. Technological development to support environmental protection has always been an important part of EPA R&D programmes and through its research programme.

Since 2005, EPA has funded approx 200 research and innovation projects in the technologies area, representing an investment of €30 million. Research supported in this area has focused on developing new or improved environmental technologies and includes major topics such as: Green Chemistry with emphasis on the promotion of innovative chemical technologies that reduce/eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances in the design, manufacture and use of chemical products could alleviate many of the environmental problems and liabilities that are associated with chemical-pharmaceutical manufacture. In this field alone EPA have funded approximately €1.5 million since 2007.

The EPA's Cleaner Greener Production Programme (CGPP) has also committed over €7 million to 89 organisations since 2001. Phase 4 is currently co-funding 15 Irish businesses, develop technology-driven solutions to environmental issues. The programme supports Irish businesses and jobs to improve business practices and establish eco-efficiency across various sectors, such as manufacturing, food processing, IT, services etc. The long-term aim is to try to ensure that cleaner greener production and eco-efficiency become the established norm in Ireland. The EPA hope that other businesses will learn from and build on past success stories and that will work towards CGPP's tagline objective: 'Better Business in a Better Ireland'.

For more information and on companies that are and have participated in CGPP.

Nick Gathergood, the All Ireland Group chairman and chair of organising committee, opened proceedings, and welcomed delegates from all across Europe. The first speaker, David Birkett, from Henkel, presented the companies particular focus on sustainability, which lead to a discussion on how Henkel are trying to make anaerobic adhesive technology more sustainable. The issues addressed included the health and safety aspects of anaerobic curatives, and possibilities for the use of renewable raw materials. Two recently launched Henkel products, threadlockers Loctite 2400 and 2700 are 'Label-Free', classified as non-hazardous and containing no dangerous substances exceeding the limits of EU-regulation 1907/2006.

Frank Bringezu, Merck KGaA, provided insights in the toxicological testing strategy of ionic liquids in early product development. The impact of the results obtained in several screening assays were elucidated with regard to regulatory requirements given according to the REACH regulation. Product development requires a design of products for efficacy, applicability and costs. However, sustainable progress demands optimization of compounds, including ionic liquids, regarding their toxicological and ecotoxicological potential in order to minimize the hazardous properties to man and the environment.

Green Chemistry Approaches for the Manufacture of Nitrogen Containing Heterocycles at Eli Lilly and Company Process Development case studies at Eli Lilly and Company were presented by Michael Kopach. Process Mass Intensity (PMI) was introduced as a metric that the pharmaceutical industry is collecting to guide development of greener processes. By applying the 12 principles of green chemistry to the preparation of LY686017, the PMI was reduced significantly.

Emma Lavoie from the US EPA, Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics in Washington D.C., introduced the Design for Environment Program (DfE) which engages a broad group of stakeholders to generate voluntary approaches to reduce use of chemicals of concern. DfE's projects use green chemistry principles to encourage 'informed substitution' to safer chemicals, based on the best available data and estimated information. DfE's programs assist companies with green business decisions through several programs. The Safer Product Labeling Program offers DfE recognition to manufacturers for products with low health and environmental hazards. DfE has allowed use of the DfE mark to distinguish more than 1,700 products as safer chemical formulations, providing direction for green purchasing programs and consumer differentiation of safer products at the store shelf. The substitutions made to achieve DfE recognition have eliminated more than 476 million pounds of chemicals of concern.

EPA project talks covered a broad scope from organocatalysis, microphotochemistry, long-term deployment of sensor monitoring systems, upcycling of post consumer polyethylene to a biodegradable plastic and stress induced molecular and ecological changes in soil autotrophs: carbon capture and novel compound prospecting. Dublin City University coordinates five of the seven EPA projects. A common theme was the close partnership with industry in Ireland.

The EPA sponsored prizes for the best poster and student talks. We congratulate Monika Gurbisz, DCU and Shane Kenny, UCD respectively.

In closing, Lisa Sheils from the Irish EPA stated 'The SCI Green Chemistry Conference held in DCU, has demonstrated the high level quality research and the exciting and challenging research on-going in this field (many of which are funded and supported by EPA). When taking into industry such as Henkel and Eli Lilly are continually working to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals and replace them with 'greener' and cost effective chemicals only highlights the 'WIN-WIN' benefits for environmental protection to economics for industry. The REACH Regulations will undoubtedly be a challenge on an EU scale for both regulators and industry. The USA example of industry working in a shared and voluntary way is a step in the right direction and one that possibly could compliment the REACH regulations in the future in Europe. This programme and the Irish EPA CGPP programme demonstrate how working together can achieve major environmental and economic savings.'

Nick Gathergood, All Ireland Group chairman

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