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Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs Executive Summary The purpose of this study was to assist the chemical “industry”1 in defining the necessary research objectives to enable the ongoing transition towards chemical products, processes, and systems that will help achieve the broader goals of sustainability. Based largely on the results of a workshop held February 7-8, 2005, and the knowledge and experience of organizing committee members, this report identifies a set of overarching Grand Challenges for Sustainability in chemistry and chemical engineering, and makes recommendations about areas of research needed to address those Grand Challenges. At the same time, this report is not inclusive of every research topic of relevance to sustainability, and it does not provide an in-depth economic analysis or policy assessment of all that is needed to achieve sustainability in the chemical industry—such as regulation and other government policies that have been historically critical in driving needed changes. The report is meant as a starting point for further analysis, with a focus on those areas that present unique challenges and opportunities where the chemical industry and 1 Throughout this report the committee uses the term “chemical industry” in its broadest sense—which encompasses allied industries such as pharmaceuticals and agricultural chemicals as well as educational practices that ultimately feed into the industry—that is, all those entities involved in the lifecycle of chemicals. Sometimes this broad definition of the chemical industry is referred to elsewhere as the “chemical enterprise,” or “chemical and allied industries.” Use of the term “chemical processing industry” specifies only that part of the industry involved in the actual manufacturing of chemicals.
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Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs government research and development funding efforts can help address larger sustainability goals. In the context of this report, “sustainability” is a path forward that allows humanity to meet current environmental and human health, economic, and societal needs without compromising the progress and success of future generations.2,3 Sustainable practices refer to products, processes, and systems that support this path. For example, such processes might involve developing new energy resources to meet societal needs; but to be sustainable they must also be economically competitive and not cause harm to the environment or human health. The Grand Challenges and research needs identified in this report warrant further attention (largely through research investment) because one or more of the three criteria of sustainability is lacking. Working toward such sustainability goals is thus both wide in scope and deep in complexity. Addressing sustainability necessarily cuts across all disciplinary boundaries and requires a broad system view to integrate the different and competing factors involved. This includes “strategic connections between scientific research, technological development, and societies’ efforts to achieve environmentally sustainable improvements in human well-being,”4 and involves the creative “design of products, processes, systems, and organizations, and the implementation of smart management strategies that effectively harness technology and ideas to avoid environmental problems before they arise.”5 In this report, progress in the chemical industry is considered within these broader efforts to address sustainability. There are more than 80,000 chemicals registered for use in the United States, and an estimated 2,000 new ones introduced each year.6 Modern society depends on, and greatly benefits from having most of these chemicals in the market place. According to the American Chemistry Council,7 “the business of chemistry [in the United States] is a $460 billion enterprise8 and is a key element of the nation’s economy … Chemistry compa- 2 World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our Common Future (The “Brundtland” Report). Oxford: Oxford University Press. National Research Council. 1999. Our Common Journey: A Transition Toward Sustainability. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. 3 Graedel, T. E., and B. R. Allenby. 1995. Industrial Ecology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. 4 National Research Council. 1999. Our Common Journey: A Transition Toward Sustainability. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. 5 National Academy of Engineering. 1997. The Industrial Green Game: Implications for Environmental Design and Management. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. 6 National Toxicology Program:http://ntp-server.niehs.nih.gov/ 7 www.americanchemistry.com 8 This is about 26 percent of the global chemical production.
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Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs nies invest more in research and development than any other business sector.” However, the effects of many chemicals on human health and the environment are far from benign, and are often largely unknown. Monitoring and controlling chemicals in the environment is also costly; each year more than $1 billion is spent just on cleaning up hazardous waste Superfund sites.9 Trends in fossil fuel consumption as well as compliance with regulatory policies have led to a significant evolution of the chemical processing industry (CPI) over the past 50 years. These forces, combined with transparency requirements, liability risks, and health indicators make sustainability goals, along with innovation, increasingly integral components of a company’s ability to compete in the marketplace. These goals in the business world are now often referred to as the “triple bottom line.”10 At the same time, the trend toward decreasing,11 or at least flat research and development spending in industry as a whole makes it difficult to advance the scientific knowledge to support these goals. Going forward, the chemical industry is faced with a major conundrum—the need to be sustainable (balanced economically, environmentally, and socially in order to not undermine the natural systems on which it depends)—and a lack of a more coordinated effort to generate the science and technology to make it all possible. As the feedstock industry for modern society, the chemical industry thus plays a major role in the sustainability effort—to advance the science and technology to support the design, creation, processing, use, and disposal of chemical substances that provide a foundation for sustainability. The set of Grand Challenges and accompanying research needs to move towards chemical products, processes, and systems that will help achieve the broader goals of sustainability are summarized below. Although the Grand Challenges are numbered, they are all important in the context of this report and to the triple bottom line of the chemical industry now and in the future. However, Figure ES-1 illustrates how the different Grand Challenges (ovals) address the sustainability transition (large arrows) from the current paradigm to the ideal vision over the course of two critical time frames: 9 Government Accountability Office. June 30, 2005. Hazardous Waste Programs: Information on Appropriations and Expenditures for Superfund, Brownfields, and Related Programs. GAO-05-746R. 10 Elkington, J. 1997. in Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. Oxford: Capstone Publishing. 11 NSF (National Science Foundation) InfoBrief (NSF 04-320). May, 2004. Largest Single-Year Decline in U.S. Industrial R&D Expenditures Reported for 2002.
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Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs FIGURE ES-1 The Grand Challenges (ovals) for Sustainability (large arrows) that address the transition from current thinking to the ideal vision for the chemical industry over the next 100 years. See text for a more detailed description of figure and the Grand Challenges. The next 20 years (2005–2025) of continued use of fossil fuels (especially oil) as the predominant source of energy and chemical feedstocks, where managing carbon, reducing the intense use of energy resources, and educational efforts to promote sustainability thinking will be critical; and The next 20–100 years (2025–2105) in which the use of fossil fuels will be phased out, and where the ability to carry out green chemistry and engineering (built on fundamental understanding of the full life cycle impacts and toxicology of chemicals), and having access to alternative renewable sources of fuels and feedstocks will be critical.
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Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs GRAND CHALLENGES The eight Grand Challenges below were chosen because they were considered to pose the greatest science and technical challenges for addressing sustainability—balanced economic, environmental, and societal progress—in the chemical industry over the next 100 years. 1. Green and Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering Grand Challenge: Discover ways to carry out fundamentally new chemical transformations utilizing green and sustainable chemistry and engineering, based on the ultimate premise that it is better to prevent waste than to clean it up after it is formed.12,13 Over the next twenty years this will involve replacing harmful solvents or improving catalytic selectivity and efficiency in chemical reactions that also provides cost savings. This area will grow in importance as fossil fuels are phased out of use and alternative and innovative approaches are required. Research Needed: Identify appropriate solvents, control thermal conditions, and purify, recover, and formulate products that prevent waste and that are environmentally benign, economically viable, and generally support a better societal quality of life. 2. Life Cycle Analysis Grand Challenge: Develop life cycle tools to compare the total environmental impact of products generated from different processing routes and under different operating conditions through the full life cycle. This is another area that is already being explored, but will play an increasingly significant role in the chemical industry in the longer term as fossil fuels are phased out of use and application of green chemistry and engineering practices become critical. Research Needed: Improvements are needed in the quantity and quality of data required for such comparisons and in the approach used to evaluate life cycle metrics. There needs to be an appropriate understanding of the methodology of life cycle analysis, the influence of the life cycle inventory 12 Anastas, P. T., and J. Warner. 1998. Green Chemistry Theory and Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 13 Poliakoff, M., J. M. Fitzpatrick, T. R. Farren, and P. T. Anastas. 2002. Green Chemistry: Science and Politics of Change. Science 297:807–810.
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Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs data on the analysis results, the interpretation of the results, and how the results will be used. 3. Toxicology Grand Challenge: Understand the toxicological fate and effect of all chemical inputs and outputs of chemical bond forming steps and processes. This is already an area of concern for the chemical industry, and will be increasingly important as fossil fuels are phased out of use and application of green chemistry and engineering practices become critical. Research Needed: Development of critical tools for improved understanding of structure-function relationships for chemicals and chemical mixtures in humans and the environment. This includes computational and genomic approaches. Development of methods to communicate this information to effectively move it from science disciplines and bench research to application in product designs. 4. Renewable Chemical Feedstocks Grand Challenge: Derive chemicals from biomass—including any plant derived organic matter available on a renewable basis, dedicated energy crops and trees, agricultural food and feed crops, agricultural crop wastes and residues, wood wastes and residues, aquatic plants, animal wastes, municipal wastes, and other waste materials.14 This is a long term challenge that will become increasingly important as fossil fuels are phased out over the next 100 years. Research Needed: Development of a catalog of biomass derived chemicals, building on what DOE has already begun,15 to provide the research community with starting points in the development of alternative pathways to achieve the desired end materials. Explore obtaining current basic chemicals such as simple aliphatics and aromatics, as well as fundamentally new compounds from platforms such as lignin, sugar, or cellulose. Improve biomass processing—including pretreatment as well as 14 U.S. Department of Energy definition. 15 U.S. DOE Biomass Program. August 2004. Top Value Added Chemicals from Biomass, Volume 1: Results from Screening for Potential Candidates from Sugars and Synthesis Gas. Report #35523.
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Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs the breakdown processes for transforming biomass material into chemicals. This requires a better understanding of the basic chemical pathways involved in biomass conversion processes as well as separation or extraction processes to isolate the basic chemicals from biomass. 5. Renewable Fuels Grand Challenge: Lead the way in the development of future fuel alternatives derived from renewable sources such as biomass as well as landfill gas, wind, solar heating, and photovoltaic technology.16 This is another long term challenge that will become increasingly important as fossil fuels are phased out over the next 100 years. Research Needed: In the area of solar energy technology: reduce the cost and environmental impact of producing photovoltaic systems; directly use solar energy for cost-effective splitting of water to produce hydrogen; improve heat transfer fluids that enable direct use of solar energy for meeting some of the heating requirements of the CPI; and advance storage systems for solar generated electric power. Simultaneously develop biomass derived fuels together with chemical feedstocks (Grand Challenge 4), while addressing the energy intensity of chemical processing (Grand Challenge 6). While the growing need for sustainable energy can be met by improvements in capturing and utilizing renewable resources such as solar, wind, and geothermal, and biomass, biomass is the only renewable resource that produces carbon-based fuels and chemicals. 6. Energy Intensity of Chemical Processing Grand Challenge: Continue to develop more energy efficient technologies for current and future sources of energy used in chemical processing. Addressing this challenge will be critical during the continued use of fos- 16 It should be noted that nuclear energy is often mentioned as a potential long-term source of energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. As pointed out in the workshop and elsewhere, current (fission based) nuclear reactor technology does provide electricity without carbon dioxide emissions. However, it also generates highly toxic wastes, presents safety and security concerns for centuries (half life of plutonium is 24,100 years), and utilizes limited uranium resources; thus it is not a sustainable energy option. At the same time, nuclear technology based on the energy released by the fusion of deuterium and tritium is a promising long-term energy source (greater than 30 years) without the negative attributes of nuclear fission, but it still requires significant research advances to make it a viable option.
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Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs sil fuels as the predominant source of energy and chemical feedstocks over the next 20 years, and will continue to be important even when renewable energy resources are predominant. Research Needed: Develop more energy and cost efficient chemical separations, especially effective alternatives to distillation. Explore biotechnology and other emerging technological solutions. Research and development needs in these areas include reducing production costs, increasing stability, and discovering catalysts with greater specificity. Better understand the mechanisms of friction, lubrication, and wear of interacting surfaces (tribology)—which leads to one third of the loss of the world’s energy resources in present use. 17 7. Separation, Sequestration, and Utilization of Carbon Dioxide Grand Challenge: Develop more effective technology and strategies to manage the resulting carbon dioxide (CO2) from current and future human activity. Addressing this challenge will also be critical during the continued use of fossil fuels as the predominant source of energy and chemical feedstocks over the next 20 years, and will continue to be important as long as carbon based fuels are in use. Research Needed: Develop energy and cost efficient technologies (Grand Challenge 6) for CO2 separation from flue gas and the atmosphere. Develop technologies for CO2 sequestration that will address the technical feasibility of making and storing compressed forms of CO2 in geological formations and elsewhere. Explore utilizing low cost, nontoxic, and renewable CO2 as a feedstock for entirely new materials and for new routes to existing chemicals such as urea, salicylic acid, cyclic carbonates, and polycarbonates.18 8. Sustainability Education Grand Challenge: Improve sustainability science literacy at every level of society—from informal education of consumers, citizens and future scientists, to the practitioners of the field, and the businesses that use and sell these products. Advances in chemistry and engineering must be ac- 17 Bhushan, B., ed. 1996. Handbook of Micro/Nano Tribology. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press. 18 Marks, T. J. et al., 2001. Catalysis Research of Relevance to Carbon Management. Chemical Reviews 101(4):973–975.
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Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs companied by cross-disciplinary education in sustainability science and its application to the business community. This includes greater understanding of earth systems science and engineering, ecology, green chemistry, biogeochemistry, life cycle analysis, toxicology. Addressing this challenge will be critical over the next 20 years as changes in thinking are needed to make the transition to more sustainable processes, products, and systems. Research Needed: Provide professional development opportunities for educators to learn more about sustainability and how it can be advantageously incorporated into their research and teaching. This includes providing incentives for faculty to change curricula while addressing the needs of graduate students entering this complex field. Persuade professional societies to integrate sustainability and green chemistry and engineering concepts into standardized testing, accreditation, and certification programs such as those developed by the ACS Committee on Professional Training or ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). This also includes developing educational materials such as lab modules, LCA modules, and new textbooks that infuse sustainability and green chemistry concepts into the core material. Incorporate sustainability concepts across secondary and tertiary education curricula. This includes chemistry and chemical engineering as well as the educational practices in professional schools such as medicine, law, and business, with particular emphasis on management education and schools that educate buyers, advertisers, and designers of consumer goods. Provide professional development for current and future managers and executives. Equally important is the communication of sustainability thinking to middle and upper level managers and executives in business management and incorporation of sustainability objectives in annual performance goals as well as corporate strategy.
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