If we want to create new, environmentally friendly products—ones that are truly green—we need to completely rethink how we manufacture these items. Hazardous solvents such as acetone and chloroform, along with large amounts of energy, are used to create the chemical reactions needed to produce everyday items such as pharmaceuticals, batteries and electronics. They also generate massive volumes of waste and a large carbon footprint. But an innovative branch of chemistry is finding safer, cheaper and faster ways to achieve the same results without harming the environment.
Tomislav Friščić is a solid-state chemist who is using his expertise in green and sustainable chemistry to take solvents out of the solution. The McGill University researcher uses mechanochemistry to create chemical reactions by essentially slamming particles together. Friščić is a leader in this fast-growing field: his lab is on the way to becoming completely solvent free, and he developed a method using X-rays to observe mechanochemical reactions as they happen. His research has uncovered important information about how reactions occur in this process, which will help Friščić and his team find ways to use mechanochemistry to recreate reactions in a way that is faster, more efficient and more energy-effective than with solvents.
Friščić already shares his findings with the pharmaceutical and mining sectors, two large industries that could greatly reduce their environmental impact and cost of doing business by doing away with solvents. He has also focused on improving green chemistry methods so they can be more widely adopted, to thoroughly replace solvent-based chemistry and help industry reduce energy and materials costs, as well as the impact on the environment.