blog  •  Jun 05

How Chemistry Supports Green Initiatives

World Environment Day celebrates the power of consumers, businesses, and government agencies to create a more sustainable world. Observed on June 5, this United Nations international day is the perfect opportunity to acknowledge the role of chemistry in promoting environmental sustainability. Learn more about how chemistry contributes to the development of green initiatives.

Green Initiatives Boosted Through Chemistry

Chemistry plays a critical role in the development of sustainable products. These products reduce air pollution, remove harmful substances from the water supply, and make it easier to produce recycled goods. For example, low-sulfur fuels reduce vehicle emissions, contributing to cleaner air. Here are some real-world examples of how chemists are using science to benefit the environment.

Sodium Borohydride: Recycling Pulp and Paper

Sodium borohydride (NaBH4) acts as a reducing agent, so it plays an important role in recycling wood pulp and paper. Using NaBH4 for pulp bleaching increases peroxide bleach yields, enhances tensile strength, and improves the appearance of the pulp.

When applied to paper, NaBH4 breaks down lignin, which contributes to yellowing. This has a bleaching effect, improving the color and texture of the paper. NaBH4 also increases paper stability due to its effect on cellulose.

Smart Windows: Enhancing Energy Efficiency

Air conditioners, furnaces, and other HVAC components consume a tremendous amount of energy. Smart window coatings can improve building efficiency by reducing the need for heating and cooling, reducing energy usage, and making utility costs more manageable. They also provide increased comfort for building occupants.

Smart windows are composed of multiple layers to achieve energy-efficiency. They typically include:

● Low-emissivity coatings: Made of ultra-thin layers of silver or tin oxide, low-e coatings reflect infrared radiation while letting visible light pass through. This helps to maintain a comfortable temperature indoors by reflecting heat back to the source.

● Electrochromic layers: Made from tungsten oxide, they can change their light transmission properties when voltage is applied. This provides dynamic control over heat and light entering a room.

● Photochromic coatings: These materials, usually silver halides, adjust their tint to changes in light intensity.

Smart window coatings also incorporate phase-change materials to control the amount of heat in a commercial or residential building. When it's warm, these coatings reflect absorbed heat away from each room, reducing the temperature. On cold days, smart window coatings absorb light from the sun and use it to warm up the space. This reduces the amount of energy used to heat and cool a building, increasing energy efficiency.

Biodegradable Plastics: Reducing Plastic Waste

The buildup of plastic waste can be harmful to flora and fauna. However, advancements in the development of biodegradable plastics are helping to reduce plastic waste. They include materials such as polylactic acid, polyglycolic acid and other biodegradable substances which break down at a faster rate than regular plastic products.

Surprisingly, cornstarch is another material with potential applications in biodegradable plastics. It contains two polymers, amylose and amylopectin, which break down faster than other materials.

Furthermore, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that embedding polyester-eating enzymes in plastics causes them to break down in the presence of heat and water. The process relies on a polymer wrapping, which prevents the enzymes from untangling and allows them to break plastic polymers into smaller units.

Green Solvents: Minimizing Environmental Impact

Solvents have many applications, such as cleaning, degreasing, and product extraction. However, traditional solvents produce ozone, which damages the natural environment. Thanks to some enterprising chemists, it's now possible to produce green solvents, reducing the environmental impact of manufacturing and other human activities. These solvents come from agricultural crops, so they're much better for the environment than traditional products made from petrochemicals.

Manufacturing companies also use solvents to produce paints and varnishes. Replacing traditional solvents with green solvents has the potential to reduce the environmental harm associated with these processes.

Photocatalysts for Water Purification

Water pollution is a major problem, as it puts humans and animals at risk of serious health problems. Polluted water also has significant implications for agricultural companies, as it contaminates food crops.

Photocatalysts combat these problems by removing pollutants from water. Photocatalysts work through a process called photocatalytic oxidation. It typically involves the use of a semiconductor material, such as titanium dioxide, which absorbs ultraviolet light from the sun, exciting electrons and triggering an oxidation process. Pollutants are oxidized and degrade into smaller and less harmful molecules, such as carbon dioxide.

Photocatalysts are extremely efficient, making them an ideal solution to water pollution. They also remove a wide range of pollutants, including chemicals found in any pharmaceuticals not properly disposed of that end up in our waterways, making the water supply even safer for humans and animals.

Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU)

Carbon dioxide is a major contributor to climate change, as it warms the atmosphere. Some chemists are working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by developing carbon capture and utilization (CCU) systems. CCU systems capture carbon dioxide and use it directly or transfer it to other products.

For example, CCU systems can capture carbon dioxide and use it to produce synthetic fuels. Chemists have also been experimenting with using CCU systems to develop new chemicals. Researchers estimate that efficient CCU systems are capable of capturing 90% of carbon dioxide emissions from industrial facilities, making them extremely promising for enhancing sustainability.

Using Chemistry to Enhance Sustainability

Chemistry clearly plays an important role in promoting sustainability on a global level. Use World Environment Day to learn more about how chemists are using their expertise to contribute to a brighter tomorrow.

Ascensus is committed to producing high-level chemical products with the environment in mind. Contact us today to discuss chemical solutions for your applications.

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