Biomass and the 12 principles of green chemistry
The past five decades have been a period of unprecedented transformations involving lifestyles around the world. Many of the key changes in society are the result of numerous advances in science and technology. These technological and social developments interact with each other and add up with often undesirable consequences from the point of view of energy consumption, ecological, and environmental degradation.
In the field of the chemical industry, the strategic challenge for the twenty-first century is the need to develop renewable raw materials to replace those coming from oil. In this context, the use of plant biomass can be considered as an alternative to the use of more polluting raw materials. And it can also become an important economic value for aggro-industrial chains.
In the 90s, Green Chemistry emerged based on 12 principles, a new philosophy that has a holistic view of the production processes of the chemical industry. The movement involved both the academic and industrial worlds who wanted to break the old paradigms of chemistry as a generator of large quantities of waste and the intensive use of petrochemicals.
Plant biomass, and in general the use of renewable raw materials, offers a great strategic opportunity for many industrial production segments.
A wide range of chemicals, especially organic ones such as acids, esters, alcohols, sugars or phenol's, can be extracted from plant biomass. Basically four types of biomass of great economic interest can be classified:
- oil seeds, mainly from soy and palm oil
- sugars, saccharides from sugar cane and sorghum
- starchy, from corn
- lignocellulosic, such as straw and wood.
The heterogeneity and consequent chemical complexity of plant biomass, in turn, requires innovative processes to make the entire supply chain and final products truly sustainable, as indicated in the 12 principles for the green chemical industry.