Saturday, 20 October 2012

Blind Chemist: Royal Society of Chemistry: Green Chemistry and Light Materials Chemistry

The Royal Society of Chemistry continues with a well attended series of public lectures and I have been to two so far.  While these all advance the case for chemistry these events are as jargon free as possible and the two speakers have a record of communication and publications.  Their experience in “The Real World” is also apparent.

From Waste to Wealth using Green Chemistry by Professor James H Clark

27th September, 2012

Green Chemistry

The term Green Chemistry has been in use for some time and embodies all those aspects of chemistry which put into practice chemical answers to problems such as sustainability, resources, energy, efficiency and basically all environmental problems (real or imagined).  The idea is to avoid some chemical pathways in favour of biotechnology.  In this regard the movement is less concerned with “end of pipe” or even “remediation”. 

Professor James Clark of York University cited the term “Devil’s tool kit”.  There are shades of the Devil’s Element often thrown at chlorine and indeed Prof Clark had an illustration of so deemed green elements and the non-green elements such as Chromium, Bromine and Fluorine.  Regarding resources, the supply of elements such as Tantalum was quoted with the extraction process.  (One could also add the production of titanium dioxide where huge quantities of intermediate processes have to use such Devil’s Tool Kits.  The concept of green chemistry has grown and may well evolve. 

As a brand “Green Chemistry” is seriously proclaimed by any CEO in a company who wants to keep their job.  Public scrutiny of all companies in the periphery of chemical activity ensures that for the time being issues such as sustainability are at the forefront for the long term benefit of the company.  The public have every right to question some chemical and pharmaceutical scandals in the past. 

Resource Intelligence

This term is used so that in addition to resources being used wisely – sustainability in terms of exploitation and recycling – there has to be an evaluation of alternative sources of raw materials from what would be considered waste products.  These include coffee bean waste, pulp and peel from oranges, rice straw, cocoa pods and even banana skins.

The war of the “soda pops” continues with each brand trying to outdo the other regarding the “green” credentials of the product itself.  The packaging may well be sustainable but is the product beneficial? (Discuss)

Sponsors of the event were GSK who had undertaken a project to cut down on solvent consumption.  GSK have consumer products in their portfolio with such brands as Horlicks and Ribena. 

There is also a specialist publication from the Royal Society of Chemistry called Green Chemistry.  More information is available on:

For more details of Professor Clark and York University visit:

Our Light Materials by Professor Howard Colquhoun

11th October, 2012

Professor Howard Colquhoun from University of Reading gave a lecture illustrating the chemistry and history of many materials which have begun to take the place of iron in terms of progression from stone, bronze and iron age civilisations.   Polymers is a term for many monomers with the monomers being simple hydrocarbons.  Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen are the elements forming molecules then polymeric structures which can challenge steel in terms of hardness, ductility, tensile strength and weight

This lecture looked at the chemistry behind some ordinary items and Professor Colquhoun introduced a plastic bag (polyethylene).  Being of a certain age and background, I still refer to C2H4 as ethylene though ethane is preferred.  Shorthand for the polymer is PE and my own hip implant has a bit of HDPE in it, according to the surgeon. The HDPE stands for High Density Poly Ethylene in trivial terms. We then moved on to other polymers going through Nylon, Kevlar and Carbon Fibres.  Professor Colquhoun carefully ran through the structure of these advanced polymers with illustrations. 

Structure, molecular bonds and repetitions of bonding patterns can be identified by the latest research in nanotechnology.  There was a lively discussion with mainly technical questions being asked though someone asked about the recycling capability of advanced composite structures.  Planes for example have as much as 70% non metal structures in the airframes.  The engines still require metal.

During the after talk discussion over coffee, I entered a discussion between an nmr researcher and a mass spectrometrist.  Being a sporting chemist, I sided with the nmr researcher who turned out to have done N15 nmr work at Queen Mary.  We had both been trained on the HA100 from Varian.  The old joke that physics discovered nmr to give the chemists something to play with has a resonance, so to speak. We soon went totally jargonista with Nuclear Overhauser Effect, satellites, spin tickling and decoupling.  Fascinating!

This talk should be available to listen to and view, but at the time of posting is not yet available. 

Forthcoming lecture: Performance Science in Olympic and Paralympic Sport

Speaker:  Scott Drawer, Head of Research and Innovation, UK Sport
Date & Time: 6th November, 2012 6:30-8:30 pm
Venue: Chemistry Centre, Burlington House, London W1J 0BA