Are green chemistry principles feasible? Can they be taken to plants? Can the industries helps the environment while helping themselves economically?
Let’s look at the ideal process parameters. An ideal process should be green, because it not only is safe to the environment but at the same time saves a lot of money. Following are the ideal process parameters, not in a order of preference:
- Room temperature
- Atmospheric pressure
- No solvent use
- No flammability
- Not a viscous fluid (Why? Because if it is viscous we have to spend energy in agitating it or mixing it)
- Benign like water
Are there any such ideal processes? No. So how are the real processes? This is what happens in the industry:
- Machines are needed (Motion free process is not conceivable)
- Driven by electricity or some other form of energy
- Skilled or semi-skilled or unskilled workers (Automation may not be a complete solution)
- Ill-informed operators work on real processes because they are not allowed to know the intricacies of the process. For example, no worker in the Coca-Cola company knows the recipe of its cold-drink.
- Fierce competition for survival and growth exists
- “Risk is better than starvation” attitude
- NIMBY (Not-in-my-back-yard) attitude of manufacturers
- Hazard exists (Risk is part and parcel of all activities)
Now, what can we do?
- Can all chemicals be replaced by safer chemicals?
- Can we live without gases to avoid leaks which cannot be contained?
- Can we avoid volatile liquids altogether?
- Can we stop designing and operating plants irrespective of the inherent characteristic of the chemicals?
Yes, if everyone decides to live like a caveman, a nice hut, a little vegetable garden, livestock in the backyard. Will everyone do it? No. So what now? We now should accept things. Except certain things and adapt to them. Adapt in a way that will keep this planet sustainable, for us and other species.
What to expect? Expect accidents: man-made, inherent or natural.
What green chemistry will do for us is to deal with the existing problems and helps us create a sustainable environment, at the same time cleaning up the mess that our creations have caused. We don’t know if we are late. I personally think it is still not too late for us to act. Act in a way that also takes care of the economy because if economies fail, the nation fails, it will lead to chaos, we don’t want that.
Reading more: Principles of Green Engineering