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[greenyes] Green Chemistry



Scientists in New England attempting to develop 'green chemistry' specialty
By MEREDITH GOAD, Blethen Maine Newspapers, Tuesday, October 26, 2004


Green chemistry -- to some people, it may sound like an oxymoron.

But scientists who are trying to grow the specialty here in New England say
that green chemistry could lead to more environmentally friendly plastics
and pesticides, and new uses for wood products and lobster shells.

In Maine, university researchers want to collaborate with Massachusetts
scientists on turning waste wood products into new plastics and polymers.
There is also interest in developing greener paper coatings with less-toxic
chemicals for the pulp and paper industry.

The concept of green chemistry, however, involves more than just a switch to
materials that are not as harmful to the environment. It encompasses
everything from the idea for a product to how it's produced and what happens
to it at the end of its life.

Green chemistry follows a dozen principles, including the idea that it is
better to prevent waste now than to clean it up later, and that chemicals
should be designed to minimize toxicity and ensure that it doesn't persist
in the environment.

"It's actually getting people and scientists, when they go into labs or when
they're making things, to think green, to think of the environmental impact
and put that as maybe the number one performance spec that we should look
at," said Carl Tripp, a chemistry professor at the University of Maine who
is active in the New England Green Chemistry Consortium, the first regional
green chemistry group of its kind.

Green chemistry is becoming more attractive to industries as a way to stay
competitive, save money, and address head-on increasing demands that they
take responsibility for the wastes their products leave behind.

Legislatures in Maine and other states are demanding that electronics
companies, for example, find a way to recycle the toxic e-waste in old
computers, televisions and other products.

Manufacturers of flame retardants are seeing some of their products banned
because of concerns that they could be harmful to human health.

"You've got to remember that a lot of these industries are under tremendous
pressure to cut environmental pollution," Tripp said. "There's a cost with
that now, and that cost will just keep going up. So the sooner they adopt
these greener approaches, they'll be saving money in the long run."

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, has introduced legislation that would promote
federal green chemistry research and development through a working group
that includes the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency. The bill does not authorize any new spending.

There is $500,000 in funding for the New England Green Chemistry Consortium
tucked into the Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development
appropriations bill, which was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee
in September.

That funding would be seed money shared by the University of
Massachusetts-Amherst and the University of Maine, which are the lead
institutions, and the universities of Connecticut, Rhode Island, New
Hampshire and Vermont.

"To us, that's a foot in the door," Tripp said. "We're going to get things
off the ground and hopefully show them progress and get more funding for
this."

In Maine, researchers hope to work with scientists from the University of
Massachusetts-Amherst to develop polymers and plastics from waste wood
materials, rather than oil. Those more natural products could then be used
in the University of Maine's work with wood composites.

Other examples of green chemistry are dry cleaners that use carbon dioxide
to clean clothes instead of perchlorethylene and other solvents. Nontoxic
paints are replacing tributyltin as an anti-fouling agent on boats. Even the
chitin in lobsters and other shellfish could be used someday to make contact
lenses and other polymers and plastics, said Paul Anastas, director of the
Green Chemistry Institute at the America Chemical Society in Washington,
D.C. There is the potential to develop a lot more products, he said. Green
chemistry is being developed with the view that everything is a chemical.

"Every plastic, every pharmaceutical, all of the things we raise food with,
your clothes, your pens, your ink jet printers -- anything that you can see
or hold in your hand can be affected by green chemistry," Anastas said.

Martin Grohman, president of Correct Building Products and CorrectDeck, a
Biddeford company that manufactures environmentally friendly decks, said
that when he started making his product in 2000, it was tough to market a
green alternative. Anything "green" was viewed as more expensive and not as
attractive, he said.

That's now changed. More people are interested in the fact that his decks
are made of sawdust and plastic instead of rainforest trees, and have not
been treated with chemicals.

One of the principles of green chemistry is energy efficiency. Grohman said
his business is undergoing a study to try to find ways to minimize energy
use.

"We don't have any emissions besides the natural gas-fired boiler that we
use to make steam, and we're hoping one day to also eliminate that," he
said. "There's not a waste stream coming off the side that we have to have
treated. That's part of green chemistry, too."



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