The National Cleaner Production Centre of South Africa (NCPC-SA) is working behind the scenes to promote and develop the concept of green chemistry, as part of a global initiative driven by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and Yale University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering.
The national NCPC-SA-driven programme is working to collate case studies, create awareness and develop a training ecosystem for green chemistry relevant to South Africa, says NCPC-SA industrial energy efficiency project manager Faith Mkhacwa.
The global UNIDO Green Chemistry Project kicked off in February 2017 as a multistakeholder project to raise global awareness about the benefits and necessity of green chemistry and develop the approaches to implement the green chemistry methodologies and technologies.
The project is in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals goal number nine, which is to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation, and goal number 12, to ensure sustainable and production patterns.
The green chemistry collaboration offers training opportunities, develops training materials on best practices in the field and documents case studies of green chemistry implementation.
Green chemistry largely focuses on the inherent nature or properties of chemicals, materials, products, processes or systems.
The adoption of green chemistry practices seeks to reduce pollution at its source by minimising or eliminating the hazards of chemical feedstock, reagents, solvents and products, or by encouraging the invention and innovation of new and nonhazardous solvents, surfactants, materials, processes and products.
Funded by the Global Environment Facility, South Africa’s own green chemistry project is being implemented by the NCPC-SA, a programme of the Department of Trade and Industry and hosted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
The NCPC-SA has made strides in promoting and implementing resource-efficient and cleaner production practices, including saving energy and water, reducing and reusing waste and improving life-cycle management skills, besides others.
“We have not really started engaging with industry as much as we wanted to, because of the foundation work we were doing,” Mkhacwa explains to Engineering News, referring to the Phase 1 awareness raising portion of the project, with a workshop held earlier this year to explain the concepts and status.
The next step is Phase 2 – training and developing an academic footprint – with a “train the trainer” programme set to equip 15 to 25 experts with the relevant skills to further train others and disseminate information within a South African context.
The five-day workshop will be hosted by a Yale University green chemistry expert team at CSIR’s Knowledge Common, in Pretoria, from October 29 to November 2.
“The lessons we get from Europe will not always fit in with the South African context, and Yale allows the local adaptation for us to develop our own guideline document,” she adds, noting that three other NCPC’s in Kenya, Ghana and Uganda will benefit from the local lessons learnt to be applied to their own similar projects.
The project will lead to the development of curricula and training on green chemistry practices, as well as document case studies of implementing green chemistry in developing countries and transitioning economies.
While the training phase is targeted, the NCPC-SA will continue its awareness campaign at the Chemicals Imbizo, where the team will host a session on green chemistry and highlight the project with UNIDO and Yale.
The group will host a stand, hand out flyers, have a speaker at the conference and use the Imbizo as an awareness campaign encouraging the industry to become a part of the green chemistry drive.
“We will assist companies here with technical skills and funding to develop green chemistry practices,” Mkhacwa says.
Earlier this year, the NCPC- SA hosted a one-day awareness raising workshop in Pretoria to unpack the importance and impact of green chemistry.
The workshop was the fifth in a series of global workshops and was customised to introduce green chemistry to stakeholders who are interested in the design of products and processes that advance global sustainability.
The workshop comprised four modules, namely the introduction of chemicals in the society; the fundamentals of green chemistry, which introduced the 12 principles; areas of research in green chemistry; and partner content of South African entrepreneurs already applying green chemistry to their new products as they move towards commercialisation.
Delegates at the workshop had the opportunity to review the 12 principles of green chemistry as developed by Yale University’s Professor Paul Anastas.
While several principles relating to the design, development and implementation of chemical products and processes have been suggested over the years, the industry has largely settled on 12 principles developed by Anastas and Dr John Warner.
The principles are: prevention; atom economy; less hazardous chemical syntheses; designing safer chemicals; safer solvents and auxiliaries; design for energy efficiency; use of renewable feedstocks; reduce derivatives; catalysis; design for degradation; real-time analysis for pollution prevention; and inherently safer chemistry for accident prevention.
While the principles enable scientists and engineers to create innovative ways to reduce waste, conserve energy and discover replacements for hazardous substances, each must be considered against the backdrop of South Africa’s own context, including population, energy challenges, resource depletion and food supplies, besides others.
The global initiative, which was developed in response to the increasing variety and complexity of chemicals and the need to make chemical products safer and their manufacturing processes less polluting, has many partners, organisations and governments from around the world, including NCPCs from Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Peru, Serbia, South Africa and Sri Lanka.