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Nick's Picks (#133)

Making Geochemistry Green

With the recent announcement that former U.S. Vice President Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts on combating climate change, global warming has undoubtedly reached its highest point of social awareness to date. Most geochemists are perhaps encouraged by all of the recent public attention regardless of political slant. Increased interest around the world will likely translate into increased funding in the Earth sciences, particularly those involved with climate research. But we are not new to the concept of global warming; many geochemists have been fighting this battle for a long time. Other efforts to help curb global warming are almost strictly geochemistry problems, including carbon sequestration.

An additional research front in which geochemists are becoming more involved is energy-related research (see the June 2007 issue of Elements). Clearly, the future of our world’s energy demand will rely on the expertise of geoscientists, but these technologies are still far away from contributing to a large portion of the global energy demand. For example, the U.S., which vies with China for the world’s most greenhouse gas emissions, only gets 2% of its energy from renewable sources. While we strive towards increasing the efficiency and affordability of renewable technologies, many of us outside the heart of such research may be wondering what other tactics we can employ to advance these efforts. As you will see, we have a great deal to do, but perhaps none would be as significant as changing a few of our outdated practices in the laboratory. Here are a few links that will get you on your way to making your lab a little greener and a few more that will introduce geochemists to the concept of "Green Chemistry."

Improving The Laboratory

Close Your Hood! (C&EN, October 8, 2007, 44-45) “The average fume hood consumes as much energy as three houses!” This is an amazing statistic. Think about all the fume hoods in your lab/department. Are they properly maintained? Are they just used for storage? Do you have a system in place to make sure they are turned off at night?

Seven tips for making your lab more energy efficient
(From Science 318, 39-40; Oct 5, 2007)
1. Close hood sashes and disable unused hoods
2. Defrost freezers regularly
3. Turn off equipment at night
4. Borrow and lend used equipment
5. Share surplus chemicals and use environmentally friendly reagents
6. Request removal of unused light bulbs from ceiling fixtures
7. Print on both sides

Need Advice on Making Your Lab Green? Interactive Q&A from The Scientist. Experts from National Laboratories in the U.S., governmental agencies, and industry chime in to answer questions submitted online by readers. For more information, see the related article: Can Labs Go Green?

This Man Wants to Green Your Lab: Excellent interview in Science with soil ecologist Allen Doyle, the founder of the LabRATS program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The LabRATS programs assesses deficiencies in standard laboratory operations on their campus. "The typical lab consumes four to five times as much energy as an equivalent-sized office or classroom, to say nothing of the huge amount of plastic, paper, and hazardous chemicals researchers go through." I doubt this information is new to everyone reading this, but it is striking to see it in print. Seven tips for making your lab a little bit greener according to Doyle are presented at the right, but you should definitely check out the entire article.

Green (Geo)Chemistry?

The U.S. EPA defines Green Chemistry as "the use of chemistry for pollution prevention. More specifically, green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances." As evident from the links below, Green Chemistry is a major scientific initiative right now. As further evidence, many universities are offering undergraduate and graduate courses in Green Chemistry, hoping to train a new breed of environmentally-responsible chemists. But what about geochemists? Nothing came up on Google when I searched “Green Geochemistry.” If it is ever to catch on, we need to be cognizant of ways to reduce waste, increase energy efficiency, and increase safety in chemical synthesis. Although geochemists do not typically synthesize many chemicals, most of the principals of Green Chemistry are still applicable.

The Twelve Principles of Green Chemstry
(from The U.S. EPA)
1. Prevent waste
2. Design safer chemicals and products
3. Design less hazardous chemical syntheses
4. Use renewable feedstocks
5. Use catalysts, not stoichiometric reagents
6. Avoid chemical derivatives
7. Maximize atom economy
8. Use safer solvents and reaction conditions
9. Increase energy efficiency
10. Design chemicals andproducts to degrade after use
11. Analyze in real time to prevent pollution
12. Minimize the potential for accidents
Green Chemistry resources on the web:

Green Chemistry Joins College Curriculum: AP article from Oct 9, 2007

U.S. EPA’s Green Chemistry Program: The largest resource for Green Chemistry on the web. See table at right.

Green Chemistry (Journal):Published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), Green Chem. is a monthly publication devoted to sustainable practices in the laboratory.

The Green Chemistry Network (RSC): Tons of resources for the green chemist including PowerPoint slides for the classroom, a message board, and tons of great links.

The Green Chemistry Institute (ACS): A partnership between the American Chemical Society and the U.S. EPA.Great source for Green Chemistry in the news, as well as information about Green Chemistry at conferences.

Green Chemistry Takes Root: Article in U.S.A. Today on Green Chemistry (Nov. 22, 2004)

Green Chemistry Assistant: A web-based program for chemistry students published by St. Olaf College (Minnesota, USA).