Augsburg’s greener way to do chemistry

Wentzel

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.”