Green chemistry, continued...

Author:Frost, Calvin
Position:LETTERS FROM the Earth

"Give us all a reverence for the earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others." (Prayers of the People) And a wonderful way to introduce this second column on green chemistry and biopolymers. What fascinates me--and I trust you--is the increasing interest and demand for these alternatives to synthetics. I believe I mentioned in my last column that the dollar volume of biobased products will grow to $10 billion by 2020 or before. That's doubling this technology in five years or fewer. Below you'll find out what I believe to be the key driver. In the meantime, what I didn't tell you in the earlier column is the diversity of applications. Green coatings, for example, are growing by 5-7% a year, and this is expected to continue through 2020 because of the focus on stronger environmental regulations and a need to reduce VOC emissions. Sustainable inks, whether they be biodegradable, bio-renewable or eco-friendly are replacing oil-based, synthetic polymers. Paint for a variety of applications, from homes to automobiles, is no longer oil based. All of these products are now latex (water) or modified acrylic/latex, another wonderful example of green chemistry working its magic. Both of these, inks and paints, are using friendly compounds derived from trees, plants, bugs, and so on. Ink, in particular, can include gums, resins, waxes, solvents, oils, and other polymers, but all are from natural sources. Biobased polyols are being used in powders and coatings also with natural ingredients, with the objective of achieving performance criteria while meeting sustainability goals. And, that's the real key: balancing performance with sustainability. That word, balance, once again!

The use of biobased materials in coatings isn't new. For example, shellac is based on a resin secreted from the lac bug (Mr. Editor, did you know that?). And, some of the first polyurethane chemistry was based on castor oil, which is: A vegetable oil obtained by pressing the seeds of the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis). The common name "castor oil," from which the plant gets its name, probably comes from its use as a replacement for castoreum, a perfume base made from the dried perineal glands of the beaver (castor in Latin).

Years ago, when we started using biobased chemistry, performance was always the element that caused modification of our chemistry. This, of course, was before sustainability became a driver. In the early...

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