Green chemistry: sustainable business on every scale

Hosted by the Yorkshire and the Humber Regional Group, ‘Opportunities for enhancing your business with green chemistry’ took place on 2 December 2009 at the King’s Manor, University of York campus with an audience of over 50, including students from the university; participants in the Young Researcher’s poster prize; SCI members; and members of the public. The event was sponsored by Biofpr and the National Non-Food Crops Centre (NNFCC).

James Clark, of the University of York, and founder of RSC Green Chemistry magazine, gave a passionate and informative opening to what proved to be a very successful event. He spoke of the importance of the developments in green chemistry and his enthusiasm was evident by the attendance of several Masters students from his University of York Green Chemistry course. His students provided some topical posters for the Young Researcher’s poster prize. Not only did the competition posters provide an informative backdrop to the event, some also formed part of the students’ Masters course.

Lorenzo Herrero Davila (pictured), of the University of York, and Brocklesby Ltd won the Young Researcher poster prize. His poster ‘Food waste: from cost to profit’ had excellent industrial applications and exemplified the aims of the event.

SUSTOIL was then the first sustainability case study up for discussion. Professor Ray Marriot, shared the recent developments of the Biorefinery and the SUSTOIL project which aims to convert oil-rich crops from the EU into energy, food and chemicals in a way that minimises waste and optimises side streams generated in the process. Professor Marriot spoke of the economic benefits available if the full versatility of the process is exploited. The SUSTOIL project aims to ‘expand the range and volume of existing biofuels’ as well as improve biofuel plant economics, by bettering and expanding existing installations.

From talk of sustaining an industry sector, Dr Yvonne Armitage of Ciba UK plc, then gave an honest insight into the applications of greener chemical processes in a large business. With profit being the main focus of development and ‘the effects of oil prices on raw materials acting as a key driving force’, it was encouraging to hear that a large business like CIBA promotes research into alternative technologies such as the Bio-acrylamide process which, through its implementation, has removed the use of acrylonitrile, a flammable carcinogen. This has been replaced by a cultured bacterial microorganism. The process which once required high intensity conditions is now done at ambient temperature and produces a higher-quality product with a higher yield.

Dr Patrick McGowan’s talk on ‘sustainable coloration technology’ as part of the work of Dyecat Ltd, proved to have applications across a wide range of industries from effluent to hair dye. This gave an excellent example of a smaller business that has developed with the premise of providing environmentally sustainable alternatives to large-scale industrial processes. Contrary to popular misconception, these newly-developed processes are not only more efficient but have a wide range of economic benefits too, for example, adding value to a common food waste such as glycerine, which has a vast range of applications.

The variety and scope of these talks provided an exciting platform for sharing the development in greener chemistry and some of the refined processes with the key aims, as Professor Ray Marriot said, ‘being to reduce carbon footprint from the outset’ by sourcing materials as locally as possible and to reduce process emissions, while maintaining the standard of product that today’s industry requires.

The event successfully highlighted the potential economic gain to industry, large and small-scale organisations, if applied correctly, with a view to maintaining product standard and profit margins. It also showed that the chemical industry is acknowledging its responsibility to look into and fund alternative processes that will eventually surpass the current methods.

Estella Shipton on behalf of the Yorkshire and the Humber Regional Group Committee

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