December 9, 2022

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Green chemistry is the key to more complete recycling

It will never be possible to recycle everything perfectly; But nothing would be usefully recycled, without innovative and appropriate chemistry

In earlier days, we explored some interesting research applications in chemistry, which show how using this science, rather than abandoning it, can point to possible solutions to indispensable mitigation of the environmental impact on the planet.

Today, instead of limiting myself to a specific field of application with examples, I would like to introduce the reader to a file The basic principle of green chemistryand explain examples of its direct application without limiting myself to a specific sector. The principle, which will sound familiar to ecologists of all backgrounds, is the principle of circularity. In green chemistry, as it was initially formulated in the 1980s, Circularity means the low environmental impact recycling of all atoms that make up a particular chemical product. Chemistry is the transformation of matter. With it, it is possible to design real processes of circular transformation, rather than simply reusing a specific product. This recycling process can take place either directly in chemical reactors, by converting an expired product into a regenerated product or another useful product, or through biological processes.capable of converting waste into compounds useful for the life of living organisms.

Of course, the primary goal is Introducing innovative chemical steps to transform products that were originally designed without worrying about what happens at the end of their life. Perhaps the products are designed to reduce our impact on the environment, which in turn risks becoming a new source of catastrophic pollution.

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This is the case with solar panels. Since around 2000, millions of solar panels have been implanted worldwide, with an expected life cycle of 25 to 30 years. This means that, in the short term, much of this fleet of panels will be disposed of, with a peak expected between 2036 and 2045. For its polluting effect, silicon, which is currently the most efficient, is also a highly pollutant in volumes intended for landfills.

Thanks to a series of different chemical processes, it is now about to extract almost all the components from the panels at the end of their life with high efficiency; But, if we analyze all the proposed operations so far, in the face of an excellent ecological balance, financial sustainability has not yet been achieved.
For this last reason, some chemical processes are particularly interesting which, instead of being limited to pure and simple re-extraction, can obtain new valuable materials starting from waste; And this is exactly the case, for example, has just been demonstrated In Singapore laboratories, a process has been developed to obtain thermoelectric materials from used plates, and in particular from silicon, that is, a class of rare materials capable of converting temperature differences into electric current and vice versa.

Let us now consider a second example, this time already on the market. Not everyone knows that the textile industry is the second in the world in terms of environmental impact, both due to energy consumption and pollution during production and at the end of its life, due to the dispersion of the fibers used.. The ubiquitous nylon is among the products with the greatest environmental impact. What would happen if they were produced from plastic waste, textile industry waste, old carpets, and abandoned fishing nets? This is exactly what has been achieved by producing a regenerated nylon, called Econyl, identical to the original.. The waste is chemically treated, reduced to small particles, and then recycled into completely new fibers. The whole process, in addition to reusing waste, uses less water and energy and produces fewer pollutants than conventional nylon production, and can convert its own products, at the end of its life, into new fibres, in an almost infinite process, in an excellent example of the cycle of chemical transformation of atoms Green Chemistry-Based. Since 2011, products made from Econyl have been successfully launched on the market, which also indicates economic sustainability.

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It will never be possible to recycle everything perfectly; But nothing would be usefully recycled, without innovative and appropriate chemistry.