Green Chemistry: Reducing Chemicals' Negative Impact on the Environment


By Danielle Fullerton

Environmental issues are vast and involve many disciplines from politics and journalism to biology and language. With these different disciplines, we can understand, educate, and solve the problems we have today. I have never thought of Chemistry as a discipline that can solve problems, just educate and understand them, until I heard of the term, “Green Chemistry”. I was in Dr. Eller’s class Organic Chemistry class, when I was enlightened by this term.

Dr. Eller has been a part of the movement in Organic Chemistry called “Green Chemistry”, which is to try and reduce the negative impacts to the environment that chemical processes have. It can be done in many ways, such as running experiments with sustainable mechanisms, renewable materials, and finding alternative pathways that has less waste or side product.

Dr. Eller has been applying Green Chemistry into her ongoing projects. Her first project is in the green synthesis of substituted pyrroles. Pyrroles are chemical structures that have important environmental and medical applications, but pyrroles are made from unsustainable chemicals. She wants to be able to create a molecule that mimics the pyrroles in a more cheap and sustainable way.  The second project has to do with molecular recognition and extraction of sulfates. Radioactive waste has a combination of anions and radioactive waste. In order to store the waste, it is placed in large vats under the ground, for example, Yucca Mountain. Today, scientists are finding that the radioactive waste is leaking from these vats into our ground, which can in turn lead to harmful effects. A solution for safe storage of the radioactive waste is to convert the salt-like substance into glass. However, sulfate retards the glass making process. Therefore, Dr. Eller is interested in working with molecules that could selectively bind to the sulfate, so it can be safely removed from the radioactive waste. Finally, Dr. Eller is interested in using organic photovoltaic (OPV) for solar energy. She explained that these types of molecules are common in biological systems, for example chlorophyll for photosynthesis. The efficiencies are very poor and sourced from non-sustainable toxic materials. So, Dr. Eller are looking for sustainable materials that would be useful in the corporation into solar cells, which would also be more efficient than the molecules found in biological systems.

“It is important that what you do with the organic molecule is green, but the source of the molecule is also green. That strikes me to be far less hypocritical than using a very toxic thing to make an green molecule.”

Dr. Eller has spent her education and career working towards combining her passion of chemistry and the environment. Green chemistry will open avenues to understand, educate, and solve the problems we have today.