Why is Green Chemistry important? Origins and Industry Impact

For the past few decades, the scientific community as well as society as a whole has raised its voice on the impact our actions have on the environment, pressing authorities and looking for solutions to address the problem. One of the main focuses has been set on Chemistry, as many “traditional” chemical processes are not sustainable in the long run, with devastating consequences for the environment and quality of life.

In this context, there’s a term that has been slowly, but steadily, gaining traction: Green Chemistry

As the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) puts it, Green Chemistry (also known as Sustainable Chemistry) encompasses the “invention, design, and application of chemical products and processes to reduce or to eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances”.

But what does this all mean? Why is green chemistry important and how does it contribute to the world’s sustainable development?

Let’s start by going back in history…

The Origins of Green Chemistry

According to the American Chemical Society (ACS), the term “Green Chemistry” was first coined by the US Environmental Protection Agency - Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxins around the 1990s.

The idea of a greater consciousness regarding chemistry had been gaining power since the 60s and 70s, however, it was mostly focused on banning dangerous toxins like DDT and “cleaning up” the aftermath of certain chemical activities. It was not until the 80s and 90s that scientists started thinking differently about their way of doing chemistry, shifting the focus on how to prevent pollution before it even took place.

Then, in 1998, two scientists named Paul Anastas and John C. Warner published what today is popularly known as the "Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry".

The Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry

First published in the book “Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice”, the Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry is a set of guidelines that other chemists can consult to work towards a more sustainable chemistry. The book marked a new era, by helping consolidate a movement that was destined to define how modern chemistry is made.

The principles highlighted in Anastas and Warner’s book are:

  1. Waste Prevention
  2. Atom Economy
  3. Less Hazardous Chemical Syntheses
  4. Designing Safer Chemicals
  5. Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries
  6. Design for Energy Efficiency
  7. Use of Renewable Feedstocks
  8. Reduce Derivatives
  9. Catalysis
  10. Design for Degradation
  11. Real-time analysis for Pollution Prevention
  12. Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention

Green Chemistry in Industry

Now that sustainability is on everybody’s top-of-mind, Green Chemistry is more important than ever. Just think about the amount of industries that rely on chemistry and whose activity has a great impact on the environment: pharma, agriculture, colorants, materials, consumer products... to name a few. 

This in part is due to the clear increase in awareness about environmental pollution. Especially since the last decades, people are becoming aware that we, as humans, are stressing the planet’s finite resources, and acknowledging that our consumption and waste have to go somewhere. And the current COVID crisis has consolidated this feeling. Just to mention some facts, there is fair evidence about:

If you watch the news, you might have noticed that some institutions are working non-stop to keep this issue present:

And special laws and regulations are being developed to promote more environmentally friendly, sustainable production processes and industries: REACH normative in European Union, ISO 14001, to name some of them.

In parallel, consumers are concerned about the impact the products they buy have in the environment and in their own bodies. Multiple initiatives inviting consumers to choose more “consciously” are nowadays on the front line, and they are demanding products that are respectful in the whole production chain: from manufacturing to recyclability. 

Having said all this, perhaps you are not very sure yet about the difference between green chemistry and general chemistry. The best way to describe it is that Green Chemistry’s main goal is to achieve the same or equivalent chemical reactions with a decrease in environmental damage.

And how is this accomplished?

Some techniques that are used for this aim include:

  • Catalysis: as mentioned in our first blog post, catalysis is the process of increasing a chemical reaction’s rate by the addition of an element denominated catalyst (like enzymes!), that is not consumed during the reaction and therefore can act repeatedly.
  • Synthetic biology: by applying engineering principles, the goal is to redesign and create new biological systems with the aim of providing novel solutions. Examples of this could be the creation of lab-grown meat, synthetic insulin or biofuels produced by algae.
  • Chemical synthesis: as the Nature journal definition says, chemical synthesis is “the process by which one or more chemical reactions are performed with the aim of converting a reactant or starting material into a product or multiple products”.

Why are industrial enzymes an example of Green Chemistry?

Maybe you are still wondering how green chemistry can help decrease pollution.

Like we mentioned earlier, Green Chemistry focuses on sustainability by looking for ways of preventing pollution, hazardous activity and resource waste. That’s why the use of industrial enzymes is such a sought-after solution for many companies who want to shift to greener production processes.

As biocatalysts, enzymes have a set of properties more beneficial than their non-enzymatic counterparts:

  • They are highly selective and specific, which allows chemists to have more control over their desired results.
  • They are effective under mild temperatures, which means significant energy savings.
  • They do not generate toxic waste.

As you can see, enzymes are pretty powerful! The main problem is adapting these enzymes to an industrial setting, which usually means tweaking the structure of an already existing enzyme to give it new features and make it work under certain conditions.That’s why at Zymvol we work to expand the use of green chemistry by creating custom-made enzymes for different industries. With some time and effort, we can make the world become a little bit greener.

 


References:

American Chemical Society. Green Chemistry History. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/greenchemistry/what-is-green-chemistry/history-of-green-chemistry.html 

CompoundChem (September 24, 2015). The Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry: What it is & Why it Matters. https://www.compoundchem.com/2015/09/24/green-chemistry/

Nature. Chemical Synthesis. https://www.nature.com/subjects/synthesis 

European Environment Agency (March 25, 2021) Synthetic biology and the environment. https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/synthetic-biology-and-the-environment 

Aatresh, A.; Cumbers, J. (September 22, 2019) Can Synthetic Biology Make Insulin Faster, Better and Cheaper?. Synbiobeta. https://synbiobeta.com/can-synthetic-biology-make-insulin-faster-better-and-cheaper/ 

Straathof, A.J.J.; Adlercreutz, P. (2000). Applied Biocatalysis (2nd Ed.). CRC Press.


What are the Colors of Biotech?

Modern biotechnology arose in the late 20th century and is currently proving to be one of the key solutions to today's problems, especially regarding health and the environment.

According to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Biotechnology is defined as any technical application that uses biological systems, living organisms or parts of them to make or modify products or processes with specific uses.

Giving that those products can be of many types, Biotechnology can cover a wide number of applications: from increasing the quality and resistance of farm crops, to keeping hospital patients healthy by keeping track of their vital signs -and, of course, engineering enzymes for industrial use.

The Colors of Biotech

As a way to structure this vast array of biotech possibilities, scientists started to categorize them by color. Each branch, a different color. That’s why you’ll often hear about the Rainbow Code of Biotechnology.

So what does each color represent in this biotech rainbow?

  • Blue Biotech covers the aquatic and marine fields, by using ocean resources to create products and industrial applications.
  • Green Biotech has to do with everything agriculture-related, focused on improving crops in an accurate, targeted way.
  • Red Biotech centers on Healthcare, by developing an advanced class of drugs and therapies
  • Yellow Biotech covers Food Production
  • Brown Biotech for when Deserts and dry regions are involved
  • Golden Biotech is focused on the use of Bioinformatics, Computational Science, Agile organization and analysis of biological data. We recently wrote a post about what is Golden Biotech in more detail.
  • Gray Biotech encompasses the Environment and biodiversity, environmental protection, maintenance of biodiversity and removal of pollutants
  • White Biotech is for Industrial processes and gene based technologies, as well as the use of enzymes and microorganisms to produce biobased products
  • Purple Biotech is reserved for the laws, ethics and philosophy revolving around biotechnology
  • Black Biotech, as you can imagine, focuses on a darker topic: Bioterrorism and biological warfare

 

At ZYMVOL we are part of the golden branch of biotechnology, since we use computational approaches to improve and enable the discovery of industrial enzymes. For that, we use technology based on computational molecular modeling, machine learning and other tools that allow us to fully understand and work with the chemical structure and interactions between enzyme, substrate and its environment.

We are golden, but our technology can help develop solutions in all other colors!

Discover how we help our customers in Pharma, Chemicals, Biotech and other industries here.

 


References:

Convention on Biological Diversity (2006). Convention Text. Article 2. Use of Terms. https://www.cbd.int/convention/articles/?a=cbd-02

Kafarski, P. (2012). Rainbow Code of Biotechnology. CHEMIK. 66(8), 811-816.


Golden biotech: what it is and why it matters

You might be wondering: “what is golden biotech?”. The answer is rather simple: a biotechnology field that uses computer science as a main driving force. But do you know why it’s often referred to as “golden”? Or what exactly does it entail when taken into practice?

The color code of biotech

First of all, Golden biotech is known as “golden” because of the Rainbow Code of Biotechnology: a way to divide biotechnology’s vast array of applications into different categories, each one defined by a color.

Through this code, we know that when someone is talking about red biotech, they’re referring to health and medical applications; and when they’re talking about white biotech, they’re mostly talking about industrial uses.

All colors of the Biotech Rainbow are important, but what sets Golden Biotech apart is that it revolves around computers. For a technology to be considered golden, it has to rely heavily on some form of computational technique.

Golden biotech is a fairly recent addition to the biotech spectrum, but due to increasing advances in computer technology, one with a lot of potential to keep on growing in the following years.

Some of the main areas included in golden biotech are:

  • Bioinformatics. Field that focuses on analyzing large sets of biological data.
  • Nanotechnology. Field that uses technology at a nanoscale, or in other words, in atomic, molecular and macromolecular levels.
  • Computational Biology. Although closely linked to Bioinformatics, Computational Biology consists of using computational methods to develop models for the study of biological systems. This means relying on technologies like Machine Learning, Algorithms, Big Data (to name a few) for building these models.

Zymvol: an example of Golden Biotech company

Now that you know the definition of golden biotech and the main technologies behind it, you might say: “ok, but what does it really look like taken into practice?”

Just take a look at us. At ZYMVOL, we are golden. And is not that we are pretentious: it’s because we work in the golden branch of biotechnology.

At our company, we use a computational approach to improve and enable the discovery of industrial enzymes. We perform what we call “in silico enzyme evolution”, that is, engineer enzymes in the computer through molecular modeling, machine learning and other computer driven technologies. This allows us to fully understand the chemical structure and interactions between the enzyme, the substrate and their environment.

Take a look at the following video. What we do at ZYMVOL in a nutshell:

 

 

Through computer simulations we reproduce the enzyme, its environment and the desired reaction (substrates that interact with the enzyme) to be carried out: we perform different strategic mutations (amino acid substitutions) along the enzyme’s sequence and test its performance, looking at variables such as stability, activity or selectivity.

Thanks to computer simulations, we came up with the best combinations to test in the lab. We provide to our customers the sequences of the top performing candidates, so they produce in the lab only what matters.

This, at large, is the heart of golden biotechnology!

 


References:

Brown, K. (2018) Gold Biotechnology. Wikitech. https://wikitech21.wordpress.com/2018/08/26/gold-biotechnology/

DaSilva, Edgar J. (2004). The Colours of Biotechnology: Science, Development and Humankind. Electronic Journal of Biotechnology, 7(3), 01-02.