Chemistry makes business sense

For years, I have tried to tell those around me that chemistry is enjoyable, but not necessarily fun. The thing I remember about learning chemistry is you feel you do not learn anything from it. Enjoyable chemistry only seems to occur when you learn, understand, have light-bulb moments, and memories are formed off the back of something you had observed but could not explain.

Visiting the UK Flavour Association FlavourDay in London yesterday, one of the highlights was listening to a chemist – Professor Avtar Singh Matharu, senior lecturer, deputy director of the green chemistry centre of excellence (GCCE) and PGT MSc green chemistry and sustainable industrial technology course director – who brought out plenty of light-bulb moments.

Professor Matharu came with props (whole fruits), simple explanations, enthusiasm and optimism in abundance – and, of course, a heap of knowledge.

He spoke eloquently about green chemistry (it’s not new, but put succinctly as it was yesterday, it’s highly compelling).

Green chemistry aims to minimise the impact of chemical products and chemical manufacturing by designing chemical products and processes that reduce the use or generation of hazardous substances across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, use, and ultimate disposal.

Professor Matharu told of how the wasted piece of fruit he took apart will most likely end up in a landfill, adversely affecting the soil quality or polluting the surrounding water. This will result in a release of methane gas as the waste decomposes. Not only is the process of depositing food waste into landfills hostile to the earth’s health, it is also non-sustainable.

One feasible way to make further use of discarded fruit is to convert the possible waste into fuels and fertilisers. The chemicals that make up orange peels, such as limonene, pectin, and bioethanol, can undergo green secondary processes, the byproducts of which can be used for cleaning products, detergents, and personal care products. Pectin can be used in the pharmaceutical industry in the form of emulsions.

For businesses, green chemistry is a worthy consideration as it can lead to the development of new processes that are more efficient and produce less waste. These processes can make use of renewable feedstocks, and reduce the usage of solvents. Additionally, green chemistry can provide cleaner air, water, safe food and products with less exposure to toxic chemicals.

There are times when you see/hear a presentation, are truly enlightened and can see a force for good. Green chemistry is that force. It can be a catalyst for change. The urgency of today’s environmental emergencies demands innovative solutions that go beyond what’s on offer currently. We needn’t look further than green chemistry to drive businesses forward.

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