It is not unusual for a long time to elapse between an initial customer inquiry and when commercial quantities of product are loaded on the truck and driven out the gate. I have seen it happen over 1 to 10 years, with 3 years being quite common. The chemical industry is not like the semiconductor business. The paradigm shift period seems much longer. In fact, any given chemical processing technology can last for a large part of a career or more. The last big chemical paradigm shift I have noticed is high throughput experimentation (HTE).  Maybe others have a more recent example.

Green chemistry is considered by many to be a new frontier of opportunity. To its detriment, many of us are unsure of what green chemistry really is and how to implement it in manufacturing. Realistically, for green chemistry to find wide acceptance, it needs to turn a profit or offer some kind of concrete advantage. Pollution avoidance is too abstract. For any new method or technology, there must be a payoff.

It seems simple. Reduce VOC emissions by using aqueous solvent compositions. Increase atom efficiency in transformations. Minimize persistant pollutants, organic or metal. Increase space yields, reduce consumables.  Green chemistry is not so easily demonstrated to the public and it may not be in the public domain. Your green technology may be proprietary, so the ballyhoo factor will collapse to zero. The processor may have to labor down the green path in silence.   

A process changeover to a green process may require many people in several companies to align to the change like compass needles to the north pole. A chemical process change must offer some kind of improvement that, by consensus, is meritorious. There is a good chance that the change will require notification of the customer and possibly even their permission. Customers often want a price concession when there is a process change so they can capture some of the value, so this may mean reduced sales volume and profits for the processor.

The customer may require that the proposed process change will be cause for a new validation of their customers product, in which case, the final user will also have to perform a validation.   In all likelihood, you are proposing a green change to a process that previously offered no problem to the downstream users.

Obviously, the time for green process implementation is at the very beginning of process development. The development chemist must have an existing toolbag of techniques, transformations, and reagents to choose from to go forward with implementation. The best way to get to this point is with curriculum change at the university level. Chemists need to have green chemistry awareness from the beginning of their training. Converting souls when they are already within industry is the hard way to do it.

Microscale labs in the undergrad experience maybe green for the university, but it is hard to see how it translates to the implementation of green technology in industry. The green revolution must come from textbooks that use green transformations in chemistry and engineering coursework. It must come from professors who weave it into their lectures and provide examples of such transformations and practices in the lab experience.

Chemists and engineers from such backgrounds must move into industry and become group leaders and managers. Only at this point will green chemistry become “normal” and expected.

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