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2.6: Green Chemistry and Synthetic Chemistry

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    Synthetic chemistry is the branch of chemical science involved with developing means of making new chemicals and developing improved ways of synthesizing existing chemicals. A key aspect of green chemistry is the involvement of synthetic chemists in the practice of environmental chemistry. Synthetic chemists, whose major objective has always been to make new substances and to make them cheaper and better, have come relatively late to the practice of environmental chemistry. Other areas of chemistry have been involved much longer in pollution prevention and environmental protection. From the beginning, analytical chemistry has been a key to discovering and monitoring the severity of pollution problems. Physical chemistry has played a strong role in explaining and modeling environmental chemical phenomena. The application of physical chemistry to atmospheric photochemical reactions has been especially useful in explaining and preventing harmful atmospheric chemical effects including photochemical smog formation and stratospheric ozone depletion. Other branches of chemistry have been instrumental in studying various environmental chemical phenomena. Now the time has arrived for the synthetic chemists, those who make chemicals and whose activities drive chemical processes, to become intimately involved in making the manufacture, use, and ultimate disposal of chemicals as environmentally friendly as possible.

    Before environmental and health and safety issues gained their current prominence, the economic aspects of chemical manufacture and distribution were relatively simple and straightforward. The economic factors involved included costs of feedstock, energy requirements, and marketability of product. Now, however, costs must include those arising from regulatory compliance, liability, end-of-pipe waste treatment, and costs of waste disposal. By eliminating or greatly reducing the use of toxic or hazardous feedstocks and catalysts and the generation of dangerous intermediates and byproducts, green chemistry eliminates or greatly reduces the additional costs that have come to be associated with meeting environmental and safety requirements of conventional chemical manufacture.

    As illustrated in Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\), there are two general and often complementary approaches to the implementation of green chemistry in chemical synthesis, both of which challenge the imaginations and ingenuity of chemists and chemical engineers. The first of these is to use existing feedstocks but make them by more environmentally benign, “greener,” processes. The second approach is to substitute other feedstocks that are made by environmentally friendly means. In some cases, a combination of the two approaches is used.

    Figure 2.4. Two general approaches to the implementation of green chemistry. The dashed loops on the left represent alternative approaches to environmentally benign means of providing chemicals already used for chemical synthesis. A second approach, where applicable, is to substitute entirely different, environmentally safer raw materials.

    Yield and Atom Economy

    Traditionally, synthetic chemists have used yield, defined as a percentage of the degree to which a chemical reaction or synthesis goes to completion to measure the success of a chemical synthesis. For example, if a chemical reaction shows that 100 grams of product should be produced, but only 85 grams is produced, the yield is 85%. A synthesis with a high yield may still generate significant quantities of useless byproducts if the reaction does so as part of the synthesis process. Instead of yield, green chemistry emphasizes atom economy, the fraction of reactant material that actually ends up in final product. With 100 percent atom economy, all of the material that goes into the synthesis process is incorporated into the product. For efficient utilization of raw materials, a 100% atom economy process is most desirable. Figure 2.7.1 illustrates the concepts of yield and atom economy.

    This page titled 2.6: Green Chemistry and Synthetic Chemistry is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Stanley E. Manahan.

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