Augsburg’s greener way to do chemistry


I’ve just been introduced to green science.

I’m in Prof. Michael Wentzel’s organic chemistry class, and he’s showing his students how to do chemistry in a more environmentally friendly way — “Benign by design,” as he puts it.

They’re reproducing a fluorescent substance found in scorpions — but doing it without generating all the waste that’s usually produced in such chemical processes.

That stuff is fluorescent. (Alex Friedrich / MPR)

Wentzel uses a combination of heating and mixing to enable his components to form chemical bonds, thus avoiding the use of  solvents — and thus taking one more chemical out of the equation.

And to get his components to react with each other more efficiently, Wentzel uses a polymer styrene catalyst instead of the usual toxic mineral acid.

The professor tells me:

“It’s how we should train scientists now. Companies want scientists that know the way to design chemistry to be more environmentally friendly. Chemistry doesn’t need to be a fixer of problems. It can be a way to never have the problems in the first place.”