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Definition of “sustainable chemistry” unclear, report from U.S. Congress says

by Cheryl Hogue
March 19, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 12

The development and adoption of “sustainable chemistry” is hindered because agreement is lacking on what this term encompasses, according to a U.S. congressional report. In addition, there is no consensus on how to measure the sustainability of chemical processes and products, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes in the report. Nonetheless, GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, determines that one goal of sustainable chemistry is more efficient use of energy, water, and materials while protecting the environment from harm when producing commercial substances. Another aim is to reduce or eliminate the use or creation of hazardous materials in the manufacture and use of chemicals. GAO concludes that three categories of technology can make chemical production more sustainable: catalysts, which reduce the energy needed for chemical processes; solvents that are derived from renewable materials or are less hazardous than solvents currently employed; and continuous processing rather than batch processing of chemicals. “The information laid out in this report will be useful to the chemical industry, to universities and other research institutions, and to policy-makers,” says Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who requested the report along with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).


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