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News | 2022-04-13
A woman and a man standing in a chemical laboratory.

Pedro Tortajada Palmero, Stockholm University, introducing a new chemical reaction to Therese Kärnman, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.

Interaction is the best way forward

In Mistra SafeChem case studies have emerged as a most efficient way forward to ensure inter­actions within the complex programme. In case studies transdisciplinary research is created which is needed to reach the programme vision to enable and promote the expansion of a safe, sustainable and green chemical industry in Sweden. Several new case studies have started in 2021.

In the case studies, the toolbox of new methods for hazard screening, risk quantification, life cycle assessments and materials management is applied to test and evaluate specific processes' ­ad­herence to the green chemistry principles and sustainability. Methods for analytical screening of chemicals of emerging concern are being refined and applied for different materials and media.

As of 2021 a wide variety of case studies are executed. The two initially planned cover chemical substitution in materials in consumer use. During the year studies were added focusing on development in cata­lysis, re­­cycling and re-­sourcing to biobased materials.

Here we look into two of the new case studies in detail: The sustain­ability assessment of a novel hydrogenation reaction process and Biocatalytic routes to amides for safer and more sustain­able by design in dis­covery chemistry.

A new hydrogenation reaction process

The sustainability assessment of a novel hydro­genation reaction process has its focus on electro­­chemical proton reduction over nickel foam as an alternative to the use of noble metals, i.e. palla­dium, for the hydrogenation reaction. The use of earth-abundant metals hold promise with regards to issues with resource scarcity, but the novel reaction has the potential to also reduce the need for fossil-based hydrogen production and trans­por­tation due to in situ hydrogen generation.

In this case study, the Mistra SafeChem toolbox is applied to explore if a nickel foam catalysed hydrogenation of alkenes to alkanes has an improved environmental and human health performance compared to a scenario where the conventional technique is applied. The toolbox is applied in an iterative process starting from hazard and exposure assessment for the chemicals in the reaction process, a screening life cycle assessment (LCA) with a broad scope in impact categories and a global material flow analysis (MFA) for nickel and palladium. The LCA is currently being extended with additional focus on chemical footprint and upscaling of the process.

Biocatalytic routes

The formation of amide bonds is an important transformation in the production of organic molecules. Amides are used in a wide range of fields, and as a synthetic intermediate product. The classical synthetic method to produce amides using harsh chemical routes has many drawbacks, one is the generation of large quantities of waste. Also, some of the activa­ting agents are not environmentally friendly.

One alternative route to acquire the amide functio­nality would be to use biocatalysts, enzymes. Research has reported that bio­catalytic re­­actions using engineered enzymes would be highly competi­tive for large scale production of pharmaceuticals in terms of efficiency and sustainability. To assess if these benefits exist also for amide bond synthesis a case study is conducted.

The Mistra SafeChem toolbox is applied to explore if products are safe and more sustainable. Extensive amounts of amide containing molecules, important for the pharmaceutical industry, have been identified and the molecules are assessed using the in silico model for hazard prediction, developed within the programme, to identify safe building blocks. Life cycle thinking is applied to avoid potential burden shifting from one impact to another and an LCA is planned for an upscaled process for bio­catalyst production.


This text is from Mistra SafeChem's annual report for 2021. Read the full annual report here. Pdf, 8.9 MB.