Green Chemistry Applied In Industry: Our 2015 Symposium

By Karl Demmans, 2015 Symposium Coordinator for the GCI

Following the success over the past couple years with our workshops entitled “Future Leaders in Green Chemistry” and “Next Steps in Green Chemistry Research”, we felt that the next logical step after teaching chemists how to apply green chemistry in their own research would be to have a symposium highlighting how these techniques are implemented by the chemical industry in the working world. Therefore we focused on obtaining lecturers from industries across Canada and the United States such as Xerox, VWR, Sigma Aldrich, Dow, 1366 Technologies, Proteaf Technologies, Green Chemistry & Commerce Council, and many more.

Starting off the event was Dr. Andy Dicks’ Crash Course which covered the basics of green chemistry while incorporating industrial case studies from recent years. The industrial lectures followed over two full symposium days, covering a variety of topics with three main goals: 1) how companies are bridging the gap between academia and industry, particularly by adopting promising chemistry from academia, 2) how companies are connecting with each other globally to instill better practices such as industrial transparency through environmental sustainability reports, and 3) chemical synthetic case examples exploring the diverse area that is the industrial green chemistry of today. A few academic lecturers were also invited to share their knowledge of solvent-free chemistry and applying green chemistry to DFT calculations.


Symposium participants learn about each other’s research during the poster session.

The final lecture, compiled by the GCI and presented by yours truly, was entitled “Preparing for the Future: Advice from Industry”. This lecture presented the responses from our invited speakers to a few questions we asked them, based on the necessary skill sets and experience required to push forward your resume when applying for an industry-based job, as well as their view of working in an industrial lab vs an academic setting. In the end, the best advice was to educate yourself broadly in science and in business, be active with extracurriculars during your studies, and most importantly to develop communication and people skills!

Highlights from the symposium included poster presentations featuring 14 posters (three of which won a monetary prize in a poster competition), dinner with the speakers in small groups, and a social event held at Harvest Kitchen with hors-d’oeuvres and drinks.


Group picture taken during the social night!

Of course, we’d like to thank our sponsors for their funding to make this event possible: UofT Environmental Resource Network (UTERN), the UofT Chemistry department, GreenCentre Canada, UTGSU, and Ulife. Special thanks goes to Universal Promotions, who were very helpful in the process of making GCI notebooks for our symposium swag.

If you’d like to see more details including a full schedule of our 2015 Symposium, click here. ACCN also published an article featuring our event, please check it out here!

We’re already planning the theme and speakers for our 2016 Symposium, so stay tuned through our social media accounts for more announcements.

Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

Green Chemistry Principle #5: Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries

By Laura Reyes, Co-Chair for the GCI

5. Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries: The use of auxiliary substances (e.g. solvents, separation agents, etc.) should be made unnecessary wherever possible and innocuous when used.

The 5th principle of green chemistry promotes the use of Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries. This includes any substances that do not directly contribute to the structure of the reaction product but are still necessary for the chemical reaction or process to occur. In the video for Principle #5, we talk about the impact of solvent waste and illustrate it by substituting dichloromethane, a commonly-used solvent, with a safer alternative.

Solvents are the most common example of auxiliary substances. Usually, solvents themselves do not react with the reagents but are still necessary in reactions in order to dissolve reagents, mix all reaction components, and control the temperature of the reaction. After the reaction, more solvents are then often used to separate and purify the product from other reaction components and any side-products.

This reliance on solvents means that a massive amount of solvent waste is generated during a typical chemical reaction. Reducing solvent use is therefore usually a high priority for chemists working on making their reactions greener, especially when working on an industrial scale.

For example, Pfizer was able to reduce the amount of solvent waste generated in its synthesis of Viagra from 1300 kilograms to just 22 kilograms for every kilogram of Viagra made.[1] This huge reduction, and others like it throughout the chemical industry, ends up making a big difference in the resulting environmental impact and demand on resources.

Although reducing solvent amounts altogether is certainly important, it’s also good to remember that every solvent has its own properties. A toxic and environmentally persistent solvent like dichloromethane should be avoided whenever possible. Many guides have been created to help chemists replace solvents of concern, such as these guides by Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Sanofi. A recent paper also compiled these guides into a more comprehensive overview.

In our video, we used column chromatography to show an example of solvent substitution in action. Column chromatography is a separation method commonly used by chemists. It works very well for separations but, like many other solvent-based separation methods, the downside is that a large amount of solvent is required.


We separated compounds found in spinach extract using column chromatography, to show how solvents can be substituted for safer choices.

We used a convenient guide for substituting dichloromethane in our column chromatography demo.[2] Using this guide, we replaced the dichloromethane/ethyl acetate (95:5) mixture in Column 1 with its alternative of heptane/isopropanol (85:15) mixture in Column 2. We then compared the separation of compounds in spinach extract between the two columns.

Column chromatography is a complicated process with a lot of factors to consider, so we had to simplify it for the purpose of the video. This YouTube video explains the basics very well for those who want to learn more. Essentially, the compounds that flow through the column are passed between the solid phase (the silica gel in the column) and the liquid phase (the solvent) at different rates, which causes them to separate as they travel downwards. The solvent choice greatly influences how well compounds separate. Although no two solvents work exactly the same way, substitution guides like the one we used in our video have already done the tedious work to help chemists choose the greenest option that will work for their reactions.

Considering the integral use of solvents throughout chemistry, the implementation of Principle #5 in even seemingly small ways can end up drastically reducing the amount of solvents used altogether and move towards safer options whenever solvents are required.


[1] Pfizer’s reduction of waste in Viagra production: P. J. Dunn, et al., Green Chem. 2004, 6, 43-48.

[2] Dichloromethane use, concerns, and substitution in column chromatography: J. P. Taygerly, et al., Green Chem. 2012, 14, 3020-3025.

Solvent selection guides:

Pfizer: K. Alfonsi, et al., Green Chem. 2008, 10, 31-36.

GlaxoSmithKline: R. K. Henderson, et al., Green Chem. 2011, 13, 854-862.

Sanofi: D. Prat, et al., Org. Process Res. Dev. 2013, 17 (12), 1517-1525.

Compilation of guides: D. Prat, et al.Green Chem. 201416, 4546-4551.