By Dr. David C. Constable, Director, ACS GCI

 

Recently I was at an ACS event talking to a young chemist who happened to be working for a major corporation in the energy sector. She was waxing eloquently about how wonderful the science was that she was able to carry out in a well-equipped, state-of-the-art laboratory and how intellectually stimulating the workgroup was that she had joined about 6 – 7 years ago. I was delighted to hear the excitement and enthusiasm in her voice; chemistry was clearly her passion.

 

Intrigued, I started asking her a few questions and the conversation went something like this:

 

Me:  “So, have you ever thought about green chemistry?”

 

Her:  “Oh, that doesn’t apply to what I do.”

 

Me:  “Well, what do you mean by that?”

 

Her:  “Well, I work on catalysts, and there really isn’t any opportunity to think about green chemistry. It really doesn’t fit into what we do.  My work is all about the science behind the catalysts, the synthesis and what they do. I just love the science.”

 

And so it went for a few minutes longer until it was painfully obvious that my attempt to elicit some thought about how she might develop catalysts from a green chemistry perspective was going nowhere fast; she was ready to go to the bar.

 

I like to imagine a different kind of conversation that might have taken place.  It would go something like this:

 

Me:  “So, have you ever thought about green chemistry?”

 

Her:  “Absolutely, and let me tell you how excited I am to be able to apply the principles of green chemistry and engineering to my work. You know, working with catalysts is exactly aligned with the principles of gc&e.  And I can already see the impact of my work?

 

Me:  “Really, that’s great, why don’t you tell me some more about that?”

 

Her:  “Well, we’ve managed to focus on heterogeneous catalysts that don’t use the platinum group or hazardous heavy metals. We’ve also discovered some iron-based catalysts that are actually more efficient, more robust, have higher turn-over numbers and are completely recyclable. Amazingly they’re also less prone to being poisoned, even with the lower grades of crude we’ve been getting.”

 

Me:  “Sounds like you’ve found the holy grail of catalysts. This is really an outstanding story!”

 

Well, maybe it’s a dream, but I’d like to think it’s just going to take a little time for us to get there.

 

I know many of you have had similar conversations and have similar desires to effect change. This is something that the ACS GCI can’t do on its own, and I’m relying on everyone who is a supporter of sustainable and green chemistry to continue to do everything we can possibly do to make the change. It’s a worthy challenge and I look forward to making the journey with you.

 

As always, feel free to let me know what you think.

 

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