Indian breakthrough: chemical industry to go green

Last Updated 23 February 2019, 01:47 IST

In what may aid at least a section of the chemical industry to go green in the future, Indian scientists on Friday reported a breakthrough process with which the industry can eventually do away with the use of tonnes of organic solvent.

Four researchers at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai demonstrated how air, water and sunlight could be combined with a little bit of nanotechnology to carry out chemical reactions crucial in industries like perfume manufacturing, without the standard use of organic solvents.

The industry currently uses organic solvents as chemical reactions take place in the solvents. But once the reactions are over, disposing off tonnes of organic liquids pose a challenge to the industry, which simply dumps it in the ground.

The TIFR team offers an environment-friendly and low-cost solution to this involving palladium nano-cages.

The tiny cages with dimensions in the range of the width of a human hair, trap the few solvent molecules inside and facilitate the same chemical reactions that the solvent is supposed to do.

The end result is an eco-friendly process technology, where the industrial units don't have to worry about the ways and means of getting rid of the solvents that can't be reused.

"Our process can take care of the waste remediation issues. It can cut down on the quantity of solvents used in the chemical factories, though our aim is to find out a process to completely eliminate use of organic solvents like tolune," team leader Jyothisman Dasgupta, a scientist from the department of chemical sciences at TIFR told DH.

Dasgupta and his colleagues Ankita Das, Imon Mandal and Ravindra Venkatramani experimented with palladium nanocages. A chemical solution containing the nano structures is added to the organic solvent. The concoction was exposed to regular light and air.

In a slow-reaction spanning over nearly 40 hours, few milligrams of the organic matter is broken inside the nano-cages facilitating the chemical reaction.

Following the initial success — reported in the Feb 22 issue of the journal Science Advances the researchers are now working to scale up the process in the laboratory so that at least more than 100 grams of solvent can be broken down in a reasonable period of time.

"We anticipate that our paradigm will lead to the development of new type of reactions and that, through these green methodologies, the environmental impact of chemical industries can be alleviated," they reported in the journal.

(Published 22 February 2019, 15:35 IST)

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