Two scientific breakthroughs that are potential game-changers
By Jeffrey Whitford
Our company, a supplier to scientists around the world, posed this question – What if science changed the world? – to raise consciousness and to get people thinking about how science has and will help society address the critical issues of our time, such as those posed by climate change.
As we thought about the implications of the question, it became clear that the thematic foundation of our 2013 Global Citizenship Report should focus on how we enable our customers to change the world on a daily basis.
As our sustainability journey has matured, we have realized the greatest impact comes not from within our own walls, but in enabling our 1.4 million customers, in more than 160 countries, to help accelerate the global sustainability revolution with new scientific breakthroughs. Our corporate vision is, after all: Enabling Science to Improve the Quality of Life. The focus is on engaging our customers, many of whom are leading the scientific sustainability revolution, and enabling them to change the world with our products.
Consider the following examples of how Sigma-Aldrich’s work is enabling leading scientists to truly make a difference for the environment.
Perovskite-based solar cells
Perovskites are “The future of solar power,” “The clean tech material to watch right now,” and “at the point of maximum optimism” according to recent articles in The Guardian.
Operating at the crossroads of effective external collaborations and new product development within Sigma-Aldrich is Bryce Nelson, Ph.D, Global Manager, Materials Science Product Management & R&D. Bryce works with customers such as the University of Oxford’s Henry Snaith exploring new materials that could make solar power less expensive, more efficient, and flexible, starting with the abundant material known as perovskites.
Using clever chemistry and perovskites, Snaith and other researchers have been able to engineer efficiencies of up to 16 percent and predict further efficiencies that will rival the widely-used silicon-based technologies. The easily mass-produced and low-cost starting materials used in perovskite-based solar cells make them ideal for use in windows, or roofing with partial transparency.
Our role: Sigma Aldrich provides a complete portfolio of precursors for the synthesis of these organometallic perovskites and works with scientists like Oxford’s Snaith to make sure they have exactly what they need. A perovskite solar revolution is underway and Sigma-Aldrich is at the forefront of enabling this new technology.
Saving nature By mimicking nature in organic chemistry
Trillions of tons of toxic organic solvent waste are produced each year by industry; the waste must be disposed of by burning; this creates excess pollutants including greenhouse gases. An alternative is burying the waste—hoping it does not make its way into the environment.
As a longtime customer of Sigma-Aldrich, Professor Bruce H. Lipshutz of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, University of California-Santa Barbara, notes, “The organic chemistry world is just not sustainable. For most organic chemistry applications large amounts of organic solvent are needed, plus significant energy is needed to heat the reaction (which occurs only at high temperatures). On top of that, the waste created is flammable, toxic, depletes reserves, and the cost to dispose of this waste in an environmentally- friendly manner is double the amount it costs to purchase.”
Bruce has developed a better way by mimicking how nature does organic chemistry — using water (eliminating toxic solvent), and working at room temperature (eliminating energy needed to heat the reaction). This new process is potentially game-changing for industries utilizing organic chemistry today, so much so that Dr. Lipshutz received the 2011 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award.
“This technology is readily available,” said Dr. Lipshutz. “It is what Sigma-Aldrich sells. It’s not expensive, in fact it’s environmentally-benign. It’s absolutely safe, healthy and it works. Nature has been doing organic chemistry this way for billions of years.”
Sigma-Aldrich sees the potential here and other big corporations are taking the new technology seriously. “This is the wave of the future, because why would you use organic solvents when you can do this with water and at room temperature, save money and get better results with less cost to the environment? It does not make sense to do it traditionally,” said Dr. Lipshutz.
As we continue our sustainability journey here at Sigma- Aldrich, we will continue exploring better ways to engage with our customers, and to enable them in their work to solve the world’s biggest problems through science.
(Jeffrey Whitford, green czar, philanthropy and community engagement champion, is responsible for developing and implementing strategic programs designed to enhance Sigma-Aldrich’s position as a global leader in greener chemistry, environmental sustainability and social responsibility.
Posted March 9, 2015 in 25115