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The How-tos Of Green Chemistry

Twelve-volume collection summarizes the breadth of research on chemistry that is more sustainable

by George B. Kauffman
May 24, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 21

by Paul T. Anastas, series editor, Wiley, 2009–12, 5200 pages, $1,985 hardcover (ISBN 978-3-527-31404-1); "Green Catalysis," Vols. 1–3, edited by Robert H. Crabtree, Wiley, 2009, 1033 pages, $572.50 hardcover (ISBN 978-3-527-31577-2).

Green, green, green. These days, it seems as if green is everywhere.

Concern about solar and other forms of alternative energy, global climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, biomass conversion, and a host of environmental problems has proliferated everywhere in the media. Evangelical groups, taking humankind's stewardship of our planet seriously, have joined the green movement. Sales of hybrid vehicles, formerly in only moderate demand, have skyrocketed, as people all over the world are finally paying attention to the long-festering problem of anthropogenic degradation of the environment.

Now, Paul T. Anastas, professor of chemistry for the environment at Yale University, director of Yale's Center for Green Chemistry & Green Engineering, and the Environmental Protection Agency assistant administrator for the Office of R&D, has produced the "Handbook of Green Chemistry," the first three volumes of which are reviewed here. Anastas is widely regarded as one of the fathers of "green chemistry," a term that he coined in 1991 to designate chemical engineering that encourages the design of products and processes that minimize the use and generation of hazardous substances. Whereas environmental chemistry is the chemistry of the natural environment and of pollutant chemicals in nature, green chemistry seeks to reduce and prevent pollution at its source.

The guiding design framework for green chemistry consists of 12 principles, which Anastas and John C. Warner, chief technology officer and chairman of the board of Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, first stated in their 1998 book "Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice," a book now translated into six languages. The authors outlined the approach to the innovation of new chemical transformations and products that will be more benign for human health and the environment as well as more sustainable.

The principles consist of prevention, atom economy, less hazardous chemical syntheses, designing safer chemicals, safer solvents and auxiliaries, design for energy efficiency, using renewable feedstocks, reducing derivatives, catalysis, design for degradation, real-time analysis for pollution prevention, and inherently safer chemistry for accident prevention. These principles are intended to ensure that all aspects throughout the entire life cycle of a chemical product or process are as inherently nonhazardous as possible—from its origins in the feedstock to the end of its useful commercial life.

"Handbook of Green Chemistry" is composed of 12 volumes divided into four subject-specific sets of three volumes each. Set one is "Green Catalysis": Homogeneous Catalysis, Heterogeneous Catalysis, and Biocatalysis; set two, "Green Solvents": Supercritical Solvents, Reactions in Water, and Ionic Liquids; set three, "Green Processes": Green Synthesis, Bioinspired Processes, and Designing Safer Chemicals; and set four, "Green Products": Green Engineering, Green Nanoscience, and Sustainable Product Design. The first set of three volumes has been published, and set two will be published later this year. The remaining sets will appear during the next three years.

"Green Catalysis" is edited by Robert Crabtree of Yale University and is three volumes of 12 essays each, written by 70 academic and industrial contributors from 16 different countries. Volume one, Homogeneous Catalysis, explains the fundamentals of this topic, which can lead to cleaner, safer reactions. It presents examples from everyday life, ranging from industrial aspects to atom economy.

Heterogeneous Catalysis, volume two, is devoted to a topic that plays a central role in green chemistry and is the most widely used and longest established type of catalysis. It deals with many different aspects of the subject, from fundamentals to established industrial applications to newly emerging research.

Volume three, Biocatalysis, surveys a technique long established in fermentation that is now rapidly expanding with the introduction of the effective methods of modern enzymology and molecular biology.

The first set of this essential collection of essays summarizes breakthroughs and highlights of the significant body of innovative, creative research in green chemistry and engineering that has been carried out during the past decade. It augurs well for the forthcoming sets of the series, and I am pleased to recommend it to chemists, chemical engineers, and anyone who wishes to understand the burgeoning world of green chemistry.



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