The synthesis of esters is important to industrial processes, but this synthesis has serious negative impacts on the environment. New research out of Germany could make this process more environmentally friendly by using carbon dioxide in place of carbon monoxide for alkoxycarbonylation. Esters are used to make pharmaceuticals, polymers and detergents, and carbonylation is needed to produce them. It entails combining alkenes with alcohols and carbon monoxide. The problem lies in the use of carbon monoxide. It is highly toxic and flammable. Carbon dioxide is much cheaper and less dangerous, but the expenses of the process of extracting carbon dioxide that is safe to use from flue gases makes this option not industrially viable.
Matthias Beller and his colleagues at the Leibniz Institute for Catalysts in Germany have found that triruthenium dodecacarbonyl can also be used to catalyze the reaction. The metal complex is more stable than palladium and much less expensive to extract for use. When the team tested this new reactant, some trials saw over 90% yield. However, despite these developments, Matt Clarke and his team at the University of St. Andrews in the UK have already found downfalls in the technology. The quantities of triruthenium dodecacarbonyl that would be necessary for the reaction are much larger than those needed when using palladium, which offsets the economic benefits of the technology. But Clark believes that the work has potential.
- Climate Team
On April 2nd, Abbey Martin, Tasha Statz-Geary, and Katie Glidden of the Young Women in Climate Team and Sarah Reed of the Executive Team attended the 7th annual Green Schools Summit at the EPA’s headquarters in Boston. The day was fun-filled and brimming with knowledgeable speakers and student presenters, including Tasha who represented the YWIC Team. Other presenters included politicians focused on environmental policy, energy-efficiency specialists and EPA workers. All the girls are very grateful for the experience to attend and present at such a successful summit and look forward to the next Green School’s event, which is the Green Difference Awards on May 28th.
- Climate Team
In recent years the compound bisphenol A (BPA) has been under increasing scrutiny. After multiple studies found that BPA acts as an endocrine disrupter, similar to the hormone oestrogen, it was banned from use in baby bottles and the government says it will be banned from use in all food packaging by 2015. Despite the adverse health effects it may cause, BPA serves as a key component in the making of strong plastics, such as baby bottles. New research, however, has found that a byproduct of papermaking may be able to serve as an alternative to BPA.
Richard Wool and his research team at the University of Delaware have synthesized green, non-toxic substitute for BPA called bisguaiacol-F (BGF). BGF is derived from lignin, the structural part of plant cell walls. The polymer is easy to access and use due to its abundance in plant material. Its structure is very similar to that of BPA, with two hydroxyphenyl groups. Both have thermal stability and mechanical strength, making BGF a viable option in the production of strong plastics. It can be produced by reacting two breakdown products, vanilyl alcohol and guaiacol.
In addition to being safer for human health, BGF is also environmentally sustainable. The research team at University of Delaware reports that over 70 million tons of BGF lignin are produced each year as a byproduct of the paper industry, and most of it ends up being incinerated. By turning this into a useful, green method of making plastic, it will both reduce waste and reliance on oil. Additionally, the process of making BGF is so simple that researchers believe BGF-based plastics could be on the market in as little as two years.
- Climate Team