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A sustainable future with green chemistry

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Nitesh H Mehta, Co-Founder Director, Newreka Green-Synth Technologies and Krishna B Padia, Executive Director, Green ChemisTree Foundation, elaborate on the barriers to implementation and industrialisation of Green Chemistry and initiatives to overcome the same

Nitesh H Mehta

Green Chemistry is now moving in a phase where most people are not asking the question “whether Green Chemistry or not?” but are asking“how can we implement Green Chemistry?” This means that relevance of Green Chemistry is no longer the question. Most stakeholders of chemical industry including industry, academic and research institutions, government and regulatory bodies, teachers and students, investors, etc. are clear that Green Chemistry is a powerful tool that can lead us to a sustainable future.

At times when, industry is grappling with shrinking margins and increasing pressure to comply to environment norms, industry has started seeing Green Chemistry as a tool that can enable them to achieve both economical and environmental competitiveness. The academic and research institutions are seeing Green Chemistry as an area for research where they can do meaningful work and contribute towards solving problems which are so relevant in today’s context. Teachers are beginning to see the relevance of teaching Green Chemistry to their students to have them be better prepared and equipped to deliver on the expectations of the industry and the society, after they are graduated. Students are beginning to see Green Chemistry as a very promising and growing field with potential to provide great career opportunities. Government and regulatory bodies have realised the role that Green Chemistry can play in improving the quality of air, water and soil for their people and for their country.

Krishna B Padia

The next question which each of the above mentioned stakeholders of chemical industry is asking is – “how we can go about it or how we can accelerate the inclusion of Green Chemistry in our domain or in our area of accountability?”

As all stakeholders of chemical industry are taking steps towards implementing Green Chemistry, there are various barriers being encountered. To accelerate the implementation of Green Chemistry, it’s important to first distinguish and confront these barriers. Once there barriers are distinguished, some new possibilities could be created to breakthrough these barriers/ roadblocks.

As a Green Chemistry Solution provider, while we engaged with the industry to develop, scale-up and commercialise Green Chemistry-based technologies or solutions, we have had a first-hand experience of some of these barriers. Working for our non-profit organisation, Green ChemisTree Foundation, on various initiatives to expand the awareness of Green Chemistry, we had opportunities to engage with other stakeholders and that’s where we realised some of the other barriers.

We are taking this opportunity to share some of the key barriers to implementation and industrialisation of Green Chemistry:

  • Availability of Green Chemistry-based technologies: The Green Chemistry tool box (set of platform technologies, based on the principles of Green Chemistry and Engineering, alternative to conventional synthetic chemistry based processes/ chemistries) is still quite empty. We still don’t have viable Green Chemistry based solution for many chemistries/ processes like nitration, sulphonation, friedel-craft, etc. In the absence of such solutions, the industry does these chemistries with conventional ways, using huge quantities of acids, alkalies and other reagents. The low conversion, poor selectivity, low yield and huge quantities of effluent generated makes these processes quite undesirable but the industry doesn’t have a viable option.
    This is one barrier, which academic and research institutes can make significant contribution in overcoming. Creating some fundamental invention/ innovation in these areas is a very relevant problem which academic and research institutes can work on.
  • Scale-up and Commercialisation of Green Chemistry based technologies: There are many inventions/ innovations that have already been developed by various academic and research institutes and these are potential solutions for some of the environmental challenges faced by the industry. However, for whatever reasons, these solutions haven’t been pursued after lab scale development. Scale-up and commercialisation is a barrier because it calls for both academic/ research institutes as well as industries to stretch themselves beyond their boundaries.
    Academic/ research institutes need to make extra effort to customise the solutions and demonstrate the technical and commercial viability at a reasonable scale, to gain industry’s confidence. The industry needs to stretch themselves to take the risk that is associated with scale-up and commercialisation of new solutions.
  • Connecting Green Chemistry Solution Providers to Industry: There are many Green Chemistry solutions that are ready (with some start-up company, scientist/ researcher, academic/ research institutes, etc) and are proven. These are the most “low hanging fruits.”
    One of the key barriers is the communication gap between the industry and such solution providers. This could be because the industry is in one past of the world and the solution provider is in other part of the world. This could also be due to insufficient marketing of the potential solution by the solution provider (usually the case with academic/ research institutes who don’t proactively market their solutions to the industry). This could also be due to industry not putting enough efforts to search and look around for solutions.
  • Understanding of basics of Green Chemistry and Engineering principles amongst chemists and chemical engineers: One of the barriers in implementation of Green Chemistry is that our team of chemists and chemical engineers working on designing new products and processes have limited knowledge about the basic principles of Green Chemistry and Engineering.
    It’s critical to ensure that our team has a workable knowledge about these principles and it’s also important to introduce Green Chemistry in our curriculum so that the next generation of chemists and chemical engineers are shaped to think from ‘Green.’
  • Myths about Green Chemistry: Certain myths about Green Chemistry prevailing around us are also a barrier in implementation of Green Chemistry in the industry. Myths like Green Chemistry is good theory but practically not feasible, Green Chemistry is difficult and complex, it is not viable for small and medium size organisations, it requires huge resources, etc.
    At Newreka, we have commercialised Green Chemistry- based solutions, ever for small and mid-size pharma and fine chemical companies, involving hardly any capital investment and break-even period of sometimes as low as three months. There could be some solutions that may take longer to develop and may require more resources but that’s not true all the time. At Newreka, we have many case studies which prove that the above myths are ‘Myths.’
  • Regulatory barriers: This is a big barrier for the pharma and other industries where any change in process (when a Green Chemistry- based process is replacing a conventional process) has to go through validation trials, change in documentations and filings as well as series of approvals from internal regulatory affairs team, customers and finally from external regulatory agencies like FDA. Besides the time invested for tedious process of making these changes in DMF filings, this also involves significant cost/ financial resources. Hence, only when the Green Chemistry- based new solution offers returns that justifies the investment of time and money, it may see the light of the day.
    Many pharma companies have now started exploring Green Chemistry-based routes of synthesis right during the initial phase of development of the molecule. This is a great initiative however, looking at the vast number of generic drugs that are being manufactured (through conventional synthetic chemistry based processes with high E-Factor), it’s worth considering the possibility of creating a ‘fast track’ for regulatory approval of process changes involving Green Chemistry and Engineering-based solutions (of-course without compromising on any other aspects of evaluation procedures of FDA). It is also worth considering offering some discount on the costs involved for filing such changes. These would offer encouragement to the pharma and other industries to implement Green Chemistry.
  • Initiative to overcome barriers: To overcome the above mentioned barriers and to accelerate the implementation of Green Chemistry in the Industry, initiatives need to be taken on multiple fronts simultaneously.

Green ChemisTree Foundation, a not-for-profit, organisation based out of India, has created a platform called ‘Industrial Green Chemistry World (IGCW)’ to facilitate addressing some of the above mentioned barriers. IGCW – Convention and Ecosystem, includes the following dimensions to address some of the barriers mentioned above:

  1. IGCW- Symposium: To educate senior decision makers from over 300 pharma, speciality and fine chemical companies about the value of Green Chemistry and empower them to adopt Green Chemistry.
  2. IGCW-Expo: An exhibition exclusive for Green Chemistry Solution providers to showcase their products and services.
  3. IGCW-Awards: In partnership with SERB (Science and Engineering Research Board, Dept of Science and Tech, Govt of India), Green ChemisTree Foundation acknowledges individuals and organisations doing extraordinary work in the field of Green Chemistry and Engineering.
  4. 180o Seminar: Technical seminars to educate chemists and chemical engineers from industry on topics like Green Catalysts, Green Solvents, Green Processes and Green Engineering.
  5. Conference for Pollution Control Board Officials: To educate regulatory bodies about Green Chemistry and empower them to be facilitators in implementation of Green Chemistry in the industry.
  6. Workshop on Green Solvent and Reagent Selection Guide: to train chemists and chemical engineering professionals from Industry on tools like ‘Solvent Selection Guide and Reagent Selection Guide,’ which are developed by ACS-Green Chemistry Institute Pharmaceutical Roundtable. This enables them to use this tool to choose safer solvents and reagents while developing a process.
  7. Workshop on CSIR – Industry Interaction: A platform for academic/ research institutes to proactively market their ‘ready to commercialise’ technologies to the industry.
  8. Workshops for students and teachers: Workshop on Green Chemistry to increase awareness and educate teachers and students.

Most of the above-mentioned barriers to implementation of Green Chemistry in the industries are common across the world, however, each country might have some specific barriers which are more challenging as compared to other barriers. Based on the identification of these barriers, each country could design its own set of initiatives to overcome the barriers it is facing and thus accelerate the implementation of Green Chemistry and Engineering.

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