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Is it easy being green?
November 2006
by Randall C. Willis  |  Email the author
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MATTHEWS, N.C.—With an eye to making chemical processes more environmentally friendly, microwave specialist CEM and the U.S. EPA recently signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) that will see the two work on scal­ing up common and new chemical syntheses using microwave energy. The pharmaceuti­cal industry should be a prime benefactor.
 
For its part, CEM will contribute its time and expertise to the development of scale-up protocols based on research-scale chemis­tries developed by EPA scientists under the leadership of microwave-enhanced chemis­try pioneer Dr. Rajender S. Varma.
 
"We appreciate [CEM's] interest in working with Dr. Varma," Gordon Evans, EPA director of sustainable technology at the National Risk Management Research Laboratory, said in announcing the CRADA. "We're looking forward to this collaborative effort...to advance the ideas of green chem­istry and sustainability through the use of microwave-assisted chemical synthesis."
 
Dr. Michael Collins, CEM president and CEO, says his company's interest in the proj­ect also stems from CEM's decision to open a scale-up division that would see the compa­ny move microwave-enhanced chemistries from milligram to kilogram scale.
 
Collins sees many advantages for the pharmaceutical industry to move to green­er processes, although he is unable to say exactly what kind of savings a company can make in reducing waste, a major problem in any industry.
 
"The financial impact will be sig­nificant, but more stringent regula­tions are what's really dictating the move of companies to green chem­istry," he says. "Ideally, we'd like to try to eliminate solvent altogether. Microwave will allow you to go to continuous flow mode and there­fore more closely approaching on-demand production, limiting the amount of materials needed at any one time and avoiding storage."
 
Another impetus for the appli­cation of microwave-enhanced chemistry is that for many com­mon organic synthesis reactions, the method can improve reaction yields—for example, Biginelli con­densations can see 15- to 60-per­cent yields increased to 90 percent. Likewise, the technology can dra­matically reduce reaction times, as is the case with Heck couplings, which can move from 20-hour reactions down to 3 minutes.
 
Collins admits that microwave isn't a cure-all and won't necessarily work for all chemical syntheses. "The problem with microwave is that it is an expensive form of energy," he says. "Thus, we'll need to make sure the cost benefit will be there for the chemists."
 
If successful, the processes will contribute greatly to the triple bottom line of pharmaceutical companies, having an impact not only on the financial balance sheets, but also on the environmental and social balance sheets.
 
Code: E110612

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