Green Innovations – The Sky’s the Limit

By Annabelle Wong, 2016 Symposium Coordinator for the GCI

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Every year, 80 billion gallons of fuels are consumed and 705 million tones of CO2 is produced by airplanes. Innovations in chemistry for applications like futuristic windowless airplanes being developed by the Centre for Process Innovation is one way to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions. [1,2]

It’s an exciting time of year again when the GCI hosts their annual Green Chemistry Symposium! I remember starting as a graduate student here at the University of Toronto just a year ago and had the wonderful opportunity of attending the 2015 symposium as a first-timer. And this year, I will be attending the annual event as the GCI Symposium Coordinator.

What does this blog post have to do with windowless planes you may ask? The theme of the this year’s symposium is “Innovations in Chemistry towards Sustainable Urban Living” which will focus on topics related to greener products and chemical processes associated with urbanization and modern technological challenges like sustainable aerospace materials. The symposium organizing committee has chosen this theme because it builds onto last year’s theme of “Green Chemistry Applied to Industry” since innovations are often related to commercialization of products and scaling up in a cost-effective, sustainable manner.

With increasing interest coming from other departments at U of T and outside of U of T, we decided to expand this year’s symposium to include a public keynote lecture by Dr. John Warner, one of the founders of Green Chemistry, and an exciting case study session on analyzing a chemical process led by Dr. Tom Enright from Xerox Research Centre of Canada. We also decided to expand beyond just chemistry to touch on some chemical or process engineering topics.

The idea to include participants outside of chemistry partially stemmed from my personal experience working as an intern at the Fuel Cell Division of Mercedes Benz Canada in Vancouver and BASF SE in Germany. I realized that for chemists in academia, research often just stops at the chemical laboratory. But when it comes to research and development of a product in hopes of bringing it to the “real world” modern daily living, you’ll most likely find yourself interacting with an interdisciplinary team of scientists,  chemical, materials, mechanical, electrical or process engineers, and financial managers to ensure that the chemistry is cost-effective, safe, and sustainable to scale up. What might be seen as a novel innovative chemical reaction that works incredibly well in the laboratory scale may possibly end up as a disaster when it’s scaled up.  I think that the professional development in academia is slightly lacking when it comes to educating us on bridging the gap between chemistry and engineering and am delighted to have invited Dr. Enright from XRCC to teach us how to make this connection.

We are also very honored to have experts from academia and industry to tell us about their innovations in chemistry and how they can help the modern society to be a sustainable one. Topics include sustainability in textiles, electrochromic windows, catalysis, aerospace materials, switchable materials, biofuels, crop protection, and sustainable scale-up processes! Here’s the schedule of the symposium:gci blog 3

To find out how innovations in chemistry can make our world more sustainable or how your own research can take flight as a scalable innovation, make sure to register here before the deadline on May 2, 2016! See you there!



[1] Centre for Process Innovation. Aerospace Windowless Aircraft – The Future Inspired by CPI. YouTube, (accessed April 27, 2016).

[2] 2014. The Centre for Process Innovation. (accessed April 27, 2016).

A Healthy Scientist Makes Greener Science

By Kiril Fedorov, Member-at-Large for the GCI

Do you remember the time you had spilled your reaction vessel on the floor, over distilled the solution, broke glassware, or had another accident in the laboratory?  Accidents happen to everyone so it is likely to happen to you once or twice in the laboratory. A problem emerges when these incidents become consistent, which is clearly not a green practice for scientists.

For example, let’s say you had a long week of reactions and you destroyed the whole product of your main reaction. This not only means you have destroyed your product, it also means you have wasted the following items: solvents, electrical energy, glassware (if broken or contaminated), single use items (pipette tips, napkins, scintillation vials etc.).

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Comparison of materials required for a normal vs. tired student.


Although accidents are random, their frequency may not be. Do you remember why many of those mistakes happened?   There could be many reasons but there is one in particular I would like to highlight. It is your health. First of all people who are healthy are less prone to mistakes and as a result are more efficent.1,2,3 For example when nurses were tested on their work on long shifts, the majority of mistakes that happened were at the end of the shift when they were most tired. You are no different as a scientist, engineer, journalist, editor or any other student. Each morning there is a long line at Tim Hortons for coffee to keep those people who are drinking it alert. Also, many people grab fast food at lunch, eat too fast, and experience a really sleepy afternoon due to high fat load or sugar crash. This leaves people tired, less aware, and as a result prone to mistakes.

Several articles highlight how much loss to the economy is due to poor health. Also people with poor health have to take more medications and get more blood tests, which again is less green.

So what can you do?

The 7 rules of green laboratory:

  1. Be punctual

If you are in a rush anxiety rises, mineral levels drop 4-7 and mistake levels increase.

  1. Prioritize

When tasks are organized you are less likely to make a mistake and again lower anxiety due to less multitasking.

  1. Sleep at night

Night is for sleeping for people! Do not stay out late if your experimental work starts early the next day. Only stay awake if you really have to. If you are a night owl, then maybe your schedule is different, but remember if you are consistently tired or need coffee it is not very efficient.

  1. Eat healthy

No need to be a health lunatic but improving your diet always works to your advantage. Let’s face it: stomach aches, sugar withdrawal, headaches, heartburn or other problems keep you distracted from lab work.  You are significantly prone to mistakes.

  1. Exercise

Get off your seat from the lab every 40-50 minutes and stretch for 10 minutes. Go outside and breathe some fresh air while walking. It will get your blood pumping and get your brain working better. (You might invent a greener reaction)

  1. Follow safety instructions

Remember it is not just about an instructor or your supervisor who enforce safety rules, but yours and other people’s health. Take your safety seriously! Think of it this way: after all the years of training as a scientist (very costly on chemicals) suddenly your health and efficiency drops and you are about to discover something amazing.

  1. Have fun

Bored, angry or sad people tend to be more prone to mistakes. (Common sense). If you believe in Karma this is quite self-explanatory. But for those who don’t, think about the times something did not work and likely you would give up or break something. With a little happy thought you can think more clearly and everything gets solved better. Just try it, I am telling you it works.


Here is an example of a reaction and the cost of avoidable mistakes:

Synthesis of Moclobemide

 Compounds used Amount required (used by an alert student) Amount used  for a tired student


Amount used  for  a repeated experiment
4-(2aminoethyl)morpholine 0.5 ml 0.5-1 1 ml
4-chlorobenzoyl chloride 0.48 ml 0.48-1 1 ml
Triethyl amine 20 ml 20 -40 40 ml
10% aq ammonia 10 ml 10-20 20 ml
Dicloromehtane 2X10 ml (2-4)X10 4X10ml
Isopropanol ~20 ml 20-40ml 40 ml


Other compounds/items Amount estimates
Water (for glassware washing) 1-20 L
Paper towels 1-30
Electrical power 0.5hr X 4kw+ 0.5 1.5 KW= 2.75 – 5.50 KWh used
Syringe 1
Acetone 10-30 ml (washing NMR tubes)
Magnesium sulfate A few grams



1. Health and safety executive survey United Kingdom

2. Tired Doctors More Prone to Errors
Tired Doctors More Prone to Errors

3. Patient care may be at risk from tired staff on long shifts. Nurs Manag (Harrow) 2015;22(5):6.

4. Sartori SB, Whittle N, Hetzenauer A, Singewald N. Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: Modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. Neuropharmacology 2012; 62(1):304-312.

5. Uteva AG, Pimenov LT. Magnesium deficiency and anxiety-depressive syndrome in elderly patients with chronic heart failure. Adv. Gerontol. 2012; 25(3):427-432.

6. Grases G, Pérez-Castello JA, Sanchis P, Casero A, Perelló J, Isern B, et al. Anxiety and stress among science students. Study of calcium and magnesium alterations. Magnes. Res. 2006; 19(2):102-106.

7. Singewald N, Sinner C, Hetzenauer A, Sartori SB, Murck H. Magnesium-deficient diet alters depression- and anxiety-related behavior in mice – Influence of desipramine and Hypericum perforatum extract. Neuropharmacology 2004; 47(8):1189-1197.