Green chemistry blossoms

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LANSING — Twenty years from now, petroleum gasoline may be obsolete. As you pump bio-diesel fuel into your brand-new Ford-GM roadster, you probably won’t think about where the fuel came from.

That’s all right — because Michigan government and business are already thinking about bio-diesel fuel, one aspect of green chemistry.

Green chemistry could bring vast economic benefits to Michigan while reducing waste and harmful exposure and developing better products, experts say.

Green chemistry, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate hazardous substances.

“Green chemistry is doing things more efficiently, reducing hazards and innovating new products that meet market demands for products with a lighter footprint,” said Anne Wallin, director of sustainable chemistry for Dow Chemical Co.

In addition to bio-diesel fuels, green chemistry has blossomed in the Midwest.

For example, in 2008, professors Robert Maleczka Jr. and Milton Smith III of Michigan State University developed a way to build complex molecules while minimizing waste. Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit Columbus, Ohio-based science and technology laboratory, has created an energy-saving soybean laser printer ink toner.

While Dow recognizes the use of green chemistry, state government has also recognized how important green chemistry may be. The Michigan Green Chemistry Program was created under an executive directive Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed in 2006.

Robert Jackson of the Department of Environmental Quality said the program produced a multi-phase action plan that will be carried out over five years by the department’s Green Chemistry Roundtable. The roundtable includes representatives from industry, institutions of higher learning, nonprofit organizations and the public, he said.

Robert Craig, director of the agriculture development division of the Department of Agriculture, said the public’s knowledge of green chemistry is essential.

“A lot needs to be done with public attention and education. Not a lot of people are familiar with green chemistry,” said Craig.

First-term Democratic Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, who holds chemistry and law degrees, said green chemistry could also have a positive impact on Michigan’s poor economy.

“There haven’t been many changes to the way chemists do their work. With our research institutions and number of engineers, can we be a center for green chemistry?” said Lipton, of Huntington Woods. “Can we show the world how things can be made, reducing harm to the environment and ourselves?”

Jackson said while green chemistry sounds good on paper, the weak economy has made it tougher to promote aggressively to the public.

A September symposium hosted by the Green Chemistry Program in Detroit will bring the state’s green chemists together for discussion and lectures.

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