EPA Science Matters Newsletter: Volume 2, Number 3
Published June 2011
- Executive Message: Green Chemistry: sustainability through innovation
Green Chemistry: sustainability through innovation
Green Chemistry was introduced into the world by EPA. What began as a blueprint for designing safer chemical products and processes has, after two decades, not only transformed the field of chemistry but also given us the tools to build a sustainable future. It was EPA’s scientific leadership that guided the way.
The world’s first green chemistry research solicitation: Alternative Synthetic Pathways for Pollution Prevention was released by EPA in 1991 and it was just the beginning. Scores of articles, books like Benign by Design, the first-ever research symposium on green chemistry at the American Chemical Society, and numerous partnerships and collaborations emerged from the collection of excellent research in EPA’s fledgling green chemistry program. The growing body of work suggested that hazard and toxicity do not have to be elements of our products and processes. Instead, they are unintended “design flaws” that can largely be avoided with thoughtful molecular design—a revolutionary concept.
In 1995, when President Clinton called for proposals on ways to reinvent government, EPA’s proposal to create the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards was a game-changing winner. Now 16 years strong, the Awards recognize innovative green chemistry solutions for pollution prevention. At its heart, the Challenge Awards program is about demonstrating environmental and economic synergies; it’s about belying the myth that a healthy environment and a strong economy are incompatible; it’s about showing what’s possible with green chemistry. On average, winning technologies have eliminated nearly 200 million pounds of hazardous chemicals and solvents, saved 21 billion gallons of water and eliminated 57 million pounds of atmospheric carbon dioxide releases every year. The program has shown that regulation is not the only way to address our most pressing environmental challenges and that innovative design can help us meet important economic and environmental goals simultaneously.
Today, EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) continues to engage in excellent, innovative, green chemistry research. This should come as no surprise to those familiar with the core pillars of ORD’s work: sustainability, integrated transdisiplinary research, and innovation. Green chemistry embraces and exemplifies these themes by relying on systems thinking, a solutions-orientation, and innovative design. By advancing green chemistry research and incorporating its principles into all that we do, we are moving ahead on ORD’s Path Forward toward sustainability.
There is no doubt that EPA will continue to pursue excellent work in the field of green chemistry. But perhaps more importantly, all research involving chemistry and engineering funded by this Agency will be increasingly expected to incorporate the principles of green chemistry into the fabric of its design. As we move ahead, it must become part of all that we do.
What began at EPA as a small, singular effort—the only research program of its kind—has grown near-exponentially into a collective endeavor of the worldwide scientific community. There are now green chemistry research networks in more than 30 countries on every settled continent, and at least four international scientific journals devoted to the topic. I am astounded by the brilliance, creativity, and leadership that has cultivated the field and allowed it to flourish.
Twenty years later, I am honored to be back at the Agency that brought green chemistry to life. I am humbled by the field’s progress and incredible scientific advances over the course of two decades and only more deeply humbled by the breakthroughs waiting over the horizon and the scientific discoveries yet to be made.
Paul T. Anastas, Ph.D
Office of Research and Development
- Executive Message: Green Chemistry: sustainability through innovation Q & A
Green Chemistry: sustainability through innovation
Science Matters recently sat down with EPA Assistant Administrator Dr. Paul T. Anastas, widely known as the Father of Green Chemistry, to talk about green chemistry.
SCIENCE MATTERS (SM): Greetings, and thanks for making the time to meet with us today. Why don’t we start at the beginning: how do you define “green chemistry”?
PAUL ANASTAS: Green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances. It’s about as fundamental an approach to sustainability as you can get.
SCIENCE MATTERS: What are some of the benefits?
PAUL ANASTAS: Green chemistry demonstrates that you can actually attain all of the goals that you set out for human health and the environment at the same time as you meet your economic goals. You can make sustainability profitable. For too long there’s been this myth that you can’t have economic benefit and environmental benefit at the same time. Green chemistry is belying that myth every day.
SCIENCE MATTERS: How has green chemistry already impacted, let’s say, business?
PAUL ANASTAS: When we look at the impact that green chemistry has had over the past 20 years, it’s astounding to see that virtually every industry sector—from the traditional chemical industry, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, materials, energy, automotive, electronics, and on and on—have been impacted by green chemistry.
Award-winning technologies in the United States, Europe, Asia and beyond are using green chemistry, not because there’s a law or regulation that says “thou shalt use green chemistry to meet your environmental goals,” but because companies are realizing that through using green chemistry they can increase their competitiveness, they can increase their profitability, they can come up with innovative, new products at the same time as meeting their environmental and human health goals.
SCIENCE MATTERS: How is green chemistry revolutionary?
PAUL ANASTAS: For 150 years or more, chemists, molecular scientists — the molecular architects — have been using their considerable knowledge and skills to develop ways to put together new molecules. And they’ve done it in a way that has achieved astounding things. Life-saving drugs that improve quality-of-life, the reason we’re able to have food production at the rate that we have it is because of chemistry.
Now with all of those accomplishments, there’s been one piece that’s kind of been missing, and that piece is ensuring that, while we achieve those goals, we also don’t cause harm to human health or the environment.
That’s what green chemistry is all about. It’s closing the circle, saying, “We’re going to perform these miraculous feats of science and technology and we’re going to do it in a way that is sustainable, that is good for this generation and future generations.”
SCIENCE MATTERS: Across the variety of research happening in green chemistry — within the private sector, universities and government — what role does EPA play?
PAUL ANASTAS: At its best, EPA is a catalyst. The Agency helps others see what’s possible, enables others to pursue their goals, provides the information and insight to allow innovation and invention to bloom.
In some cases it is through research grant funding, in others it is sharing and making accessible data, and in some cases it’s doing the innovative research here at one of EPA’s own labs or providing a venue to demonstrate new technologies. When EPA engages with our partners—in the private sector, from colleges and universities, from environmental groups and the public in general—it raises the awareness of what’s possible and removes barriers that would otherwise impede the implementation of new technologies and new innovations. That’s when EPA is at its best.
SCIENCE MATTERS: How does Green Chemistry support an overall vision for advancing sustainability?
PAUL ANASTAS: The classic definition of sustainability is meeting the needs of the current generation while preserving the ability of future generations to meet their needs. What that means for us is recognizing that we need to take care of the things that we can’t live without, and we need to take care of them forever.
Designing tomorrow is the challenge that we all face. As we seek to design tomorrow, we need to recognize that it’s not good enough to be just a little bit less bad, a little bit less polluting, having our water be a little bit less contaminated.
SCIENCE MATTERS: What is the future of green chemistry?
PAUL ANASTAS: The only thing more exciting than the achievements of green chemistry so far is the future power and potential of green chemistry. For every product that has been reinvented using the principles of green chemistry, there are perhaps tens or hundreds of products that have yet to be reinvented. And so, when we start thinking about the kind of transformative innovations that are possible, the kind of transformative innovations that true sustainability requires, that’s where green chemistry’s future lies; thinking beyond incremental improvement into transformative, disruptive innovations that are real game changers.
Great Environmental Moments in Science: Green Chemistry
- Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry
Green chemistry, also known as sustainable chemistry, is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances. Green chemistry applies across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, and use.
The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry, originally published by current EPA Assistant Administrator Paul Anastas, Ph.D. and John Warner, Ph.D. in Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice (Oxford University Press: New York, 1998), provide a road map for chemists to implement green chemistry.
The twelve principles are:
It’s better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste afterwards.
Design synthetic methods to maximize the incorporation of all materials used in the process into the final product.
Less Hazardous Chemical Syntheses
Design synthetic methods to use and generate substances that minimize toxicity to human health and the environment.
Designing Safer Chemicals
Design chemical products to affect their desired function while minimizing their toxicity.
Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries
Minimize the use of auxiliary substances wherever possible make them innocuous when used.
Design for Energy Efficiency
Minimize the energy requirements of chemical processes and conduct synthetic methods at ambient temperature and pressure if possible.
Use of Renewable Feedstocks
Use renewable raw material or feedstock rather whenever practicable.
Minimize or avoid unnecessary derivatization if possible, which requires additional reagents and generate waste.
Catalytic reagents are superior to stoichiometric reagents.
Design for Degradation
Design chemical products so they break down into innocuous products that do not persist in the environment.
Real-time Analysis for Pollution Prevention
Develop analytical methodologies needed to allow for real-time, in-process monitoring and control prior to the formation of hazardous substances.
Inherently Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention Choose substances and the form of a substance used in a chemical process to minimize the potential for chemical accidents, including releases, explosions, and fires.
- Sustainable Chemistry: An Even Darker Shade of Green
Innovative EPA researcher taps everyday tools and plants to develop environmentally friendly ways to make chemicals and nanomaterials.
EPA researcher Dr. Rajender Varma has given new meaning to the phrase “reading the tea leaves” through his visionary development of new, green ways to synthesize chemicals and nanomaterials from things such as microwave ovens, magnets, and natural antioxidants found in coffee, vitamins, grape husks left over from winemaking operations, and, of course—tea.
Varma and his team have developed dozens of new and patented methods for the chemical industry and others to make compounds in environmentally friendly ways.
Working at an EPA research laboratory dedicated to tapping the principles of green chemistry and engineering to advance sustainability, Varma’s team is developing benign nanomaterials to replace conventional catalysts, substances that initiate or speed up chemical reactions but do not themselves change during the reaction. Catalysts can be expensive, dangerous if not handled properly, and may end up as waste products that must be treated and/or disposed of carefully. In contrast, Varma has created iron-based magnetic nanomaterial-based catalysts that are easily recycled.
By building nanomaterial-based catalysts with a core of iron and coating them with other metals, the catalyst can be separated using a simple magnetic field and then re-used, avoiding the use of hazardous substances while creating virtually no waste. “I often feel these methods plagiarize Nature because our approaches mimic what nature does so elegantly in biological systems,” Varma says.
Varma’s group has also pioneered a new method of synthesizing nanoparticles. Instead of using a typical “top-down” approach that relies on large energy inputs and toxic solvents to break down larger materials, Varma and his colleagues employ a simple “bottom-up” method that assembles nanomaterials at the molecular level. This novel approach avoids the use of hazardous reducing agents, and instead employs benign metallic salts (such as iron salts), water, and polyphenols from plant materials (tea, coffee, and red grapes) to act as reducing or capping agents to prevent nanomaterials from aggregating into larger clumps during the production process.
Varma’s innovative methods for coating iron nanomaterials are earth-friendly in both their production and degradation processes, allowing them to be used for environmental remediation operations, even to clean up pesticides from soils near crops.
Working with the Connecticut-based firm VeruTEK, Varma and his EPA colleagues have played an important role in developing and commercializing green remediation technologies. VeruTEK has used this approach for degradation of pollutants in water. The technology can also be applied directly to soil, where it forms nanomaterials that breakdown organic toxicants. The iron-based, phenolic-coated nanomaterials naturally degrade, so they can be left in place once applied, offering an attractive alternative to standard cleanup methods of extracting and hauling away contaminated soils for offsite cleaning before they are trucked back in and replaced.
Not surprisingly, Varma’s work has attracted significant attention from the scientific community and beyond. He has briefed U.S. Congressional staff and the President of India in addition to lecturing in Chile, China, India, Peru, and Venezuela. He pointed out that developing countries are immensely interested in methods that allow them to “leapfrog” by circumventing older technologies and embracing more efficient ones, such as when governments encourage the establishment of cell phone networks, allowing them to skip costly and disruptive installations of telephone poles and overhead wires in areas that previously had no telecommunications technology.
The nanocatalysts that Varma’s team produces can be safely recycled and may be used over and over, and can even be utilized for clean-up operations using visible light from the sun. According to Varma, “this process allows for a little darker shade of green” as we transition to practices for more sustainable chemical manufacturing and use. “In addition to its monitoring and compliance efforts, hopefully EPA can be a beacon to others in developing sustainable methods going forward,” Varma says.
- Transforming Paper Mill Pollution into Commercial Resource
EPA-pioneered green chemistry technology that filters toxic pollutants from industrial waste and turns it into a marketable resource has the potential to pay big dividends for paper mills.
You’re cruising down the highway, windows open, fresh air in your face. “What is that gosh-awful smell?” Suddenly, the fresh summer air smells as though a hundred cooks are boiling a thousand cabbages right under your nose. You have just driven by a pulp and paper factory.
The chemical pollutant causing this odorous essence of cabbage is called dimethyl sulfide. It is a waste product of the pulp and paper industry along with numerous hazardous chemicals including highly toxic sulfur compounds, called total reduced sulfur compounds (TRS), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like methanol gas.
“The dimethyl sulfide in one pulp and paper company alone was being generated at about 400 thousand pounds per year,” reports John Leazer, director of EPA’s sustainable technology research. A toxic pollutant, methanol gas, is also very common in pulp and paper industry waste. “Methanol was being emitted at roughly 600 thousand pounds per year at the same company,” says Leazer.
In an effort to reduce these harmful pollutant wastes, EPA scientists have developed a green chemistry technology that captures and converts such chemicals into useful resources.
In 2006, the US pulp and paper industry generated over 200 million pounds of hazardous wastes, including TRS and VOCs. Currently, standard practice is for pulp and paper mills to direct hundreds of thousands of pounds of such waste into giant incinerators for burning, which in itself entails large energy costs.
Where others saw only the creation of waste and the consumption of energy, a handful of EPA researchers saw opportunity. The scientists have now pioneered a safe technology that captures certain polluting compounds and converts them into chemicals that can be sold on the open market—commodity chemicals.
EPA chemical engineer, Endalkachew Sahle-Demessie (Sahle), states, “This technology takes the methanol from the pulp and paper industry waste streams and selectively converts it into methyl formate, an environmentally friendly blowing agent and solvent, and a precursor to formic acid which is used as a preservative and antibacterial agent.” In addition to creating a marketable resource, the new technology even clears the factory air of most of its unpleasant odor.
Studies have shown that the new technology removes roughly 98% of the chemical pollutants responsible for the boiling cabbage smell of pulp and paper mills. Ninety percent of toxic methanol gas is also removed from the factory waste.
Based on the average amount of waste from pulp and paper mills, this new technology has the potential to remove up to 13,000 pounds of pollution per day, saving the factory between $500,000 and $1 million each year.
“This technology is new. This technology doesn’t use any toxic chemicals. And it doesn’t disrupt the current core process of the pulp and paper industry. It simply converts the industry waste into useful product,” says Sahle of the aspects of green chemistry prevalent in this research.
This unique technology is the result of collaboration between university, government, and industry researchers. Presently, EPA scientists have completed a small-scale trial of the waste converting technology they and their partners have pioneered at a pulp and paper mill in Kentucky.
“A lot of innovative bench work has been done, but most of the research does not simply transfer to an industrial scale, so you can’t see the impact of it yet,” cautions Sahle. “What we are doing now in the EPA lab is trying to move from the discovery of this technology to small scale research trials, and then to collaborate with industry to take this technology and scale it up.”
Future large-scale use of this innovative green chemistry could significantly decrease the amount of pollution released by paper mills, the amount of energy paper mills use to dispose of waste fluids, and greatly reduce the smell surrounding paper mills. At the same time, such technology could increase mill profits as they harvest marketable chemical resources.
- EPA Scientists Pioneer Methods for Greening Biofuels Production
EPA researchers test new technology to reduce the costs of biofuels production.
Anyone who has filled their car recently understands the growing desire to develop substitutes for gasoline. Biofuels, such as ethanol made from corn and other bio-based feedstocks, have been a highly sought-after potential candidate for years. But while the prospect of turning domestically grown corn crops into fuel is an exciting one, the actual practice has faced significant sustainability challenges.
Using current methods, the production of ethanol consumes a large portion of the energy it yields. Traditional production, relying on a distillation process that separates energy-rich alcohols from dilute fermentation broths, requires the generation of steam, which requires large energy inputs.
EPA researchers Leland Vane, Ph.D. and Franklin Alvarez are working to change that through the development of more energy efficient ways of producing biofuels. The two scientists have pioneered a kind of hybrid distillation method that uses a new membrane technology to produce fuel-grade ethanol with greatly reduced energy and production inputs.
Based on promising bench studies, including process simulations and sophisticated spread-sheeting analysis software, the researchers and their partners are now conducting pilot tests of the new technology. If the new technology continues to show positive results as it is scaled up, it could lead to less expensive, cleaner-burning gas and less dependency on foreign supplies of oil, according to Alvarez.
“By using new membrane technologies, we can produce the same amount of ethanol using about half the amount of energy needed with other processes,” says Alvarez, a chemical engineer in an EPA research lab in Cincinnati, Ohio that explores green chemistry and engineering to advance clean processes and other environmentally sustainable technologies.
The new method Vane and Alvarez are working on employs what they call membrane assisted vapor stripping (MAVS) technology that efficiently separates water from alcohol (fuel). Substituting the MAVS hybrid technology for the distillation process in pilot tests is proving to allow ethanol production using much less energy and production costs than is possible with current methods. The product of the MAVS process is ethanol concentrated to the 99.5 weight percent (wt%) needed if it is to be blended with gasoline.
The new hybrid technology is so efficient and easy to employ, in fact, that it has the potential to make small-scale operations more cost-effective. This would greatly expand the number and amount of bio-based sources that could be turned into ethanol, including waste and byproducts from a host of food processing and other industries.
Alvarez points to interest already expressed from cheese and wine companies seeking to extract energy from whey (a cheese by-product) and grape skins to produce fuels, as well as valuable chemicals they could sell on the open market. “Using the steam stripper and membrane technology allows us to get additional energy out of these waste streams,” he explains. “We are open to working with a variety of companies to transform their waste streams so they are cheaper to dispose of and more environmentally friendly,” he adds.
“Promoting the efficiency of fuel production and reducing environmental waste is a win-win situation for EPA and the private sector. I am proud to be part of a team that takes science and engineering so seriously and is creating a safer country and a cleaner environment,” Alvarez says.
The new EPA technology could clear the way for a more efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly set of solutions to persistent energy challenges facing the nation. It could make a trip to the gas station far less painful.
- Spin Doctors: Reducing Environmental Burdens Through Better Chemistry
EPA scientists and partners develop new spinning methods to “green” chemical production.
EPA chemist Dr. Michael Gonzalez describes standard chemical batch manufacturing processes as being a bit like boiling potatoes in a big pot. While some potatoes are cooked, others are still underdone, requiring the cook to leave them boiling longer. It’s a hard balance. By the time the undercooked ones are ready, others that have not been removed are ruined. The same inefficient scenario often holds true in chemical manufacturing processes.
Gonzalez and his collaborative research partners are working to change that and to help protect human health and the environment at the same time. Their innovative research, performed in a “spinning tube-in-tube” reactor, allows for each chemical to be “cooked” and removed after it is done, without affecting the rest of the batch.
Gonzalez, from the Sustainable Technology Division of an EPA research lab in Cincinnati, OH, embraces the principles of green chemistry to advance the development of cleaner synthesis techniques for commodity and specialty chemicals. He and his partners are exploring the development of innovative, benign substitutes—such as the spinning tube technology—for harsh chemical catalysts or solvents.
Catalysts are substances that speed up chemical reactions without affecting the chemicals themselves. Separate chemical catalysts or toxic solvents are widely used during conventional chemical manufacturing efforts. They become hazardous waste at the end of the process.
The increased mixing action within the spinning tube-in-tube reactor, or STT®, promotes or accelerates the desired chemical reaction, while minimizing or eliminating the need for a catalyst or solvent(s).
The STT® reactor has been successfully demonstrated and used within EPA laboratories and has now been licensed by a couple of companies that are looking to build commercial-scale operations for the production of their consumer products.
Through these industry partnerships, EPA scientists and engineers are facilitating the development and wider adoption of green chemical manufacturing approaches that can produce thousands of different chemicals. The methods need no chemical inputs other than the reactants and therefore greatly reduce the time, costs, and energy associated with standard chemical production processes. They also lower safety risks to workers. Reaction times within the STT® reactor are faster, enabling one reactor to produce from two to 12 tons of product per year while having the physical footprint of a six-foot table.
According to Gonzalez, the process has potential applications in the pharmaceutical, industrial chemical, food additive, and fragrance sectors. Application in these industries “offers the maximum opportunity to minimize risks” by applying the principles of green chemistry (such as substituting increased mixing for toxic solvents) and green engineering, he explains. Green engineering comes into play because the physical size of a plant needed for spinning tube reactors is orders of magnitude smaller than that needed for conventional chemical manufacturing with large, room-sized reactor vessels, separation towers, filtering systems, and pipeline networks.
EPA has been collaborating with the Four Rivers Energy Company to co-develop and advance the spinning tube-in-tube technology. “By partnering with Four Rivers and with the chemical industry, we’ve been able to tackle real-life challenges, apply sustainable solutions to these challenges, and work with more than 20 companies to get these technologies out into the marketplace,” Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez often speaks to student groups about green chemistry and green engineering as emerging ways to make chemicals. According to Gonzalez, using sustainable principles is “pollution prevention at the molecular level.” Gonzalez also says that he has found other audiences eager to learn more. “This research is an opportunity to show new ways of doing things to colleagues, industry scientists, and society so they can educate the next generation of chemists and consumers as we head down the path to sustainability.”
- Chemical Toxicity Testing Going Digital
EPA is using computer models to predict the human health and environmental hazards of new chemicals and advance the design and use of green chemistry.
With thousands of new chemicals introduced into the market each year, EPA needs a better way to predict which ones are most likely to pose the greatest threats to human and environmental health. Now there is T.E.S.T (or the Toxicity Estimation Software Tool), a computer program developed by EPA that enables scientists to conduct analyses to estimate toxicity from a chemical’s molecular structure—the atoms from which it is built and the particular way they are linked together.
It can take months or even years to measure toxicity in the laboratory using test animals, but “it can take only seconds on the computer,” says EPA scientist Dr. Douglas Young. “Animal testing is very expensive,” he adds, but T.E.S.T. “utilizes data that are already out there.” Dr. Young and colleagues Drs. Paul Harten, Raghuraman Venkatapathy, and Todd Martin developed the T.E.S.T. software program. Both are part of an EPA research team working to advance green chemistry and engineering methods to advance sustainable technologies.
T.E.S.T. gleans mutagenicity and developmental toxicity data from thousands of in vivo exposure tests conducted under strictly controlled laboratory conditions. The scientists used such existing toxicity data to develop models that the program then uses to predict quantitative toxicity values, such as the concentration of a certain chemical (in mg/L) it would take to result in a 50% mortality rate for a commonly used study animal (such as fathead minnows) in a given amount of time.
The program’s results have been impressive. “We’ve tested it against a number of different software tools and approaches [including commercial software], and our tool always seems to come out either on top or as good as anything else,” says Young. T.E.S.T. is free and has been downloaded from EPA’s website more than 4,000 times.
With more than 80,000 chemicals in commerce and thousands more being added into commercial applications each year, the utility of T.E.S.T. is becoming increasingly apparent.
Users range from chemical and pharmaceutical companies to academic researchers and environmental health specialists. They can input the structure of a chemical to be tested into a computer by drawing it using a built-in structure drawing tool, importing it from standard chemical structure file formats, or selecting it from the program’s structure database. The databases in T.E.S.T. relate molecular descriptors or characteristics to the result of a given toxicity test. Each type of test contains its own library of comparison chemicals that vary in size and composition.
The European community has embraced using similar programs like T.E.S.T. to reduce the need for animal testing. The goals of the Registration Evaluation Authorization and Restriction of Chemical Substances (REACH) legislation, which was enacted by the European Union and went into effect in 2007, are to manage chemical risks and develop more chemical safety information, but the burdens of increased animal testing associated with more testing were at first thought to be enormous. New types of toxicity tests and database programs are the main approaches Europeans are taking to answer this challenge.
T.E.S.T. is a key part of the toolkit that EPA has developed in support of its mission to advance technologies to reduce environmental risks to human health and ecosystems. For example, T.E.S.T. can supply missing toxicity estimates needed for “green process” design, a new approach to designing industrial processes to reduce the environmental impacts of the waste that is generated while at the same time minimizing manufacturing costs. EPA also has developed a green process design software program called the Waste Reduction Algorithm (WAR), which can be downloaded at its Clean Processes website.
Today, scientists in the fields of genomics and bioinformatics are measuring the effects of chemicals directly on genes and proteins. T.E.S.T. was designed so that these and other types of new information about chemicals can be added easily to the program as the science evolves. EPA is using T.E.S.T. as part of its strategy to continue advancing sustainable toxicity testing into the 21st century and beyond.
- Q&A with EPA's Dr. John Leazer
Director of EPA's Sustainable Technology Division answers questions about green chemistry.
Science Matters recently sat down with EPA’s Dr. John Leazer—Director of the Office of Research and Development’s Sustainable Technology Division—to ask about some of the Agency’s green chemistry research and engineering efforts.
SCIENCE MATTERS: Could you tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to EPA to help lead the Agency’s green chemistry and engineering efforts?
DR. LEAZER: Sure. My name is John Leazer, and I am the Director of the Sustainable Technology Division of EPA. I’ve been trained as a chemist — a synthetic-organic chemist. During my 22 years in the pharmaceutical industry I became very interested in green chemistry, which is one of the reasons that I decided to move to EPA. The Sustainable Technology Division provides an opportunity for me to have a greater impact on green chemistry and engineering.
SCIENCE MATTERS: Why is EPA involved in green chemistry research?
DR. LEAZER: Green chemistry is all about innovating — coming up with new ideas. We here at EPA are charged with protecting human health and the environment. Green chemistry serves both of those purposes. We look for more sustainable ways of doing things. We look for renewable resources to use in our processes, and we also look for opportunities to convert waste by-products into value-added products.
With green chemistry, you design your molecule, and your process, with an eye towards sustainability. You evaluate the entire process before you even go to the lab. You must think about energy, you must think about raw materials. Are you using renewable resources, or are you depleting your resources? The list goes on and on. The point here is that, green chemistry allows us to reap the full environmental, societal, and economic impacts of the deliverable over its entire life due to the effort put in before we even go to the laboratory. We do our best to design sustainability into both the product and the process upfront.
SCIENCE MATTERS: How does EPA’s green chemistry research fit into the Agency’s goal to advance sustainability?
DR. LEAZER: What we’re trying to do here at EPA is effect a paradigm shift in the way that scientists perform their chemistry and in the way that the public perceives the synthesis of materials, so it fits in quite well. Now, one thing that we do here that many other laboratories do not is that we consider the entire life cycle perspective of the material we’re dealing with. So, it’s not simply that you make a product for that product’s sake. You must take into account everything associated with making that product, and it has to be done in a sustainable manner.
We take into account the amount of energy that’s used, and we take into account resource depletion, so it’s the entire life cycle perspective. What do we use? Where do we get it from? How much of it do we use? How is that product used? And, finally, how is that product either recycled or destroyed at the end of its life?
SCIENCE MATTERS: What role can EPA play in the green chemistry revolution?
DR. LEAZER: EPA must play a very fundamental role in the green chemistry movement. Green chemistry started right here in EPA with Dr. Paul Anastas, our Assistant Administrator, so we play a very fundamental role. The EPA must drive the national agenda for green chemistry, and I also believe that EPA should drive the global agenda for green chemistry.
SCIENCE MATTERS: How does EPA form and work with partners from industry and other groups interested in green chemistry?
DR. LEAZER: Partnerships play a fundamental role in how we do business at EPA. We have what we call Cooperative Research and Development Agreements which have led EPA to be recognized as a national leader in green chemistry. Companies and corporations come to us to help them solve their green chemistry problems. This has resulted in products that are on the market that EPA has had some hand in developing. Our scientists are becoming better known around the country, around the world, as leaders in green chemistry.
We have helped develop catalysts and materials with outside companies that have resulted in new methodologies and new technologies to remove contaminants from water. We’ve helped develop new technologies and techniques to remove contaminants from soil, as well. All of these technologies have resulted in job creation. Collaborations with outside companies play a very strong role in what we do at EPA.
SCIENCE MATTERS: It sounds like EPA is doing a lot to advance green chemistry and engineering. Thank you for making the time today.
DR. LEAZER: EPA is doing a lot to promote green chemistry; and we will continue to innovate in this arena. Thank you.