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At the beginning of this month Ghent University launched the GREEN-CHEM network. The network is founded because we believe the future of chemistry is green, but this requires a global collaboration and knowledge sharing model between academia and industry. The goal of the network is to think about the possibilities of green chemistry and how international green chemistry experts from academia and industry can internationally work together towards a more sustainable future.
Editorial office / Gent

We are facing several global challenges, such as overpopulation, increased consumption and global warming. “In this respect, the development of a more sustainable and green chemistry is crucial”, said prof. Chris Stevens as acting chair of GREEN-CHEM. “To enhance and speed up this process, it is essential for universities and industry to collaborate globally, share knowledge, and create new know-how.” GREEN-CHEM partners will combine their expertise and aim for a green future in chemistry by using more sustainable, renewable and biodegradable materials. Thereby, they want to create better and safer chemical products and design more efficient and sustainable processes to synthesize them with less waste.

Companies and universities are already working together in various projects with green chemistry as the main subject. The importance of this kind of collaboration was pointed out by dr. Dirk Carrez, executive director of the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC). He emphasized the benefits of public-private partnerships and the possibilities for bio-based industries across different value chains at a European level. The consortium already resulted in numerous new cooperations, such as Leaf Resources and Novozymes that are joining forces in the conversion of biomass to functional sugars.

Another success story of close collaboration with industry came from one of the GREEN-CHEM partners, dr. Philippe Evon from the INPT (Institut National Polytechnique de Toulouse, France). Together with Stéphane Ballas, project manager at Ovalie Innovation, they developed a novel patented twin-screw extraction technology for the valorization of whole-plant biomass, e.g. from coriander or from sunflower. This new process allows both the generation of high-quality oil as well as further valorization of by-products from the remaining dry coriander cake. Moreover, in a collaboration between Toulouse University and Ghent University, the extracted coriander oil is being chemically modified to obtain novel properties in search for new potential applications.

Although 97% of all produced goods involve at least one chemical reaction, the chemical industry scores rather low on public perception. A more sustainable and green chemistry can improve this image. So, fact-based communication about green chemistry innovations is definitely also an important goal of the GREEN-CHEM network. Nonetheless, the discussion revealed that most people believe that the reduction of carbon output is the best advantage of green chemistry. This advantage was followed by less waste, safer processes and the development of products with new properties.

In 2016, the estimated percentage of renewable chemicals in the global chemical market in sales was only 10%. It seems that green chemistry still faces some challenges before it can reach its full potential. The main reason is the high cost compared to conventional chemistry and the potential disruption of highly optimized supply chains and processes.
However, this percentage might increase in the future through the development of bio-based solvents. Worldwide, more than 20 million tons of solvents are used every year for manufacturing and processing, for washing or as a major ingredient in paints and coatings. An example of such a novel bio-based solvent is ‘Cyrene’, derived from sawdust. Cyrene is safe and environmentally friendly. Its development is the result of a collaboration between the University of York (UK) and Circa Sustainable Chemicals Ltd., represented by prof. James H. Clark and the CEO of Circa, dr. Jeff Eaves, respectively.

The development of bio-based chemicals is also the subject of prof. Changwei Hu’s research group (Sichuan University, Chengdu, China). One of the projects is the conversion of complex sugars to simple chemical building blocks, such as 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (5-HMF), a food-grade flavour ingredient.

View all the presentations of the launch.