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Green Chemistry

Green Chemistry is a set of principles for the design of products and processes in a way that reduces or eliminates the use and generation of hazardous substances.

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Manufacturing: What goes in to making a window?

Everything around us is made of chemicals. We are made of chemicals, our friends are made of chemicals, the food we eat and the air we breathe are all chemicals. Modern life would not be possible without industrially produced chemicals and the products that contain them. That is why green chemistry is an important field: it helps in the design of chemical products and processes that can sustainably and safely enhance our lives. Our food production, energy systems, and material sourcing can all benefit from green chemistry principles.

Industrial ecology is an important field of study because it assesses how the flows of resources impact people and the world at large. Industrial ecology looks at the bigger picture: how policy, the environment, economics, and society affect (or are affected by) how stuff gets made, used, and discarded.

Manufacturing: What goes in to making a window?

 It happens to all of us: you’ve stained your favorite shirt and need to get it out. Chemistry solves this problem by developing the most efficient chemical to remove stains and delivering it to you in a product. Green chemistry takes a step back and asks, what chemical can remove this stain and be nontoxic, degradable, and renewable.

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Toyota’s Worldwide Metabolism (Toyota Motor Company)

In [an industrial ecosystem] the consumption of energy and materials is optimized, waste generation is minimized and the effluents of one process - whether they are spent catalysts from petroleum refining, fly and bottom ash from electric-power generation or discarded plastic containers from consumer products - serve as the raw material for another process.

This is a pretty new field: “industrial ecology” is considered to originate from a 1989 Scientific American article titled “Strategies for Manufacturing,” although mentions of it bubble up as far back as the early 1970s. In that 1989 article, the authors consider the implications of industrial ecology:

Frosch and Gallopoulos, Scientific American, 1989

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That quote illustrates a larger point: industrial ecology is not only a descriptive tool (quantifying flows), but it can be used as a prescriptive tool to make recommendations for system improvements. By assessing flows, industrial ecology can identify opportunities for waste reuse and reduction. This process can be scaled to look at a single car factory, to all car factories within a company, to even all car factories within a nation. Take another look at the Toyota diagram: you can see a loop (right) that indicates thermal recovery. This shows how waste is already being reused within a system.

Here are some examples of industrial ecology in use today:

Read about industrial ecology at Kalundborg, where water, energy and material flows from six industrial and three public sector organizations operate in a system of industrial symbiosis:

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The eternal debate: paper vs. plastic? Industrial ecology helps to dig into the nuances, and Northwestern has the story:

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Read about how one company, Apple, is employing reuse in its own production via recycling robots:

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Read about industrial ecology at Kalundborg, where water, energy and material flows from six industrial and three public sector organizations operate in a system of industrial symbiosis:

Read more

The eternal debate: paper vs. plastic? Industrial ecology helps to dig into the nuances, and Northwestern has the story:

Read more

Read about how one company, Apple, is employing reuse in its own production via recycling robots:

Read more

Case Studies

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Footnotes

 Amit Kapur, Thomas E. Graedel, in Encyclopedia of Energy, 2004