Future scientists will surely look back at the tremendous growth era of chemistry in the previous century and muse about the medieval 20th century technology. For millenia, nature has produced everything life on the planet needed using only the energy from the sun and the simple building blocks of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen with some other atoms peppered in to spice things up. In the pursuit of better living through chemistry, scientists have made great strides, but at great costs. Great energy costs, when molecules need to be processed through high temperature reactions before they can be convinced to mate up into useful new chemicals. Great environmental costs, with the application of some of the amazing properties of chemicals in ways nature never intended (think chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, or perfluoroctansulfonates, PFOS) or with the use of solvents and other chemicals with health or environmental risks as processing aids.
Enter "Green Chemistry," a new way of thinking about how to bend atoms and molecules to human will. This year, Eastman Chemistry wins the 2009 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for a breakthrough in using lessons from mother nature to make ingredients for cosmetic and personal care products. The Eastman™ green biocatalytic process uses enzymes to manufacture esters at low temperatures and with no solvent nor strong acid processing aids. What are the advantages of this process to you?Advantages of Biocatalytic Processing
The first advantage to consumers: with the use of biocatalytic processing, there is no need to separate out harmful chemical processing aids after manufacturing the desired chemical. That means the ingredients in your face cream or baby shampoo are less likely to have low levels of contaminants. The level of contaminants in personal care products is not believed to be harmful, but with increasing concern about exposure to a large variety of chemicals and possible synergistic (additive) effects, the introduction of cleaner processes is a plus.
Second, especially in the case of personal care products, is the energy use and waste generation related to purifying reaction products to "safe" levels. Eastman claims the new process saves over 10 liters of solvent per kilogram of product. And less post-reaction processing as well as the lower temperatures of reaction mean a lot less energy used.
Finally, the process can use more sensitive starting materials, even natural raw materials, that would be consumed in the high temperature, acidic, solvent environment of traditional reaction processing. This allows the manufacture of new chemicals as well. Of course, the need remains to reign in human hubris and evaluate the potential risks of new molecules being introduced into our environment before marketers take over to convince the consuming public that they cannot live without "reducing undesirable skin pigmentation and providing a more uniform skin tone."
Leading cosmetic companies are currently evaluating Eastman's new range of chemicals while Eastman works to scale the process up to produce some of the 50,000 tons of esters used in the North American market every year.
More on Green Chemistry:
EPA Green Chemistry
Eastman™ green biocatalytic process
California Becoming Green Chemistry Leader With EU-Style Regulation
OrganoClick's Green Chemistry To Slim, Trim, And Detoxify Packaging
Introducing Clorox's Green Works Cleaners
Largest University Science Center Meeting LEED Platinum Standards Opens
Green Chemisty for the Layperson