I grew up in sight and smelling distance of - not to mention fed by a salary paid by - a major petrochemical site, so I do have a tiny bit of sentimental attachment to this industry. However, if I look at the flow diagrams of what the industry produces, it strikes me that they represent an huge one-way track leading from fossil resources to products of limited lifetime to waste that may persist in the environment for much longer than the products were used, along with carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change.
Considering the limits on our planetary resources and the impact of waste on the environment, we are now all well aware that it would be better if that flow diagram looked more like a roundabout and less like a highway to hell. There are many ideas how to reuse this or recycle that, but considering the gigantic scale of that one-way system from resource to waste, they have limited chances of changing the big picture. Thus I was thrilled to learn that chemists at the NSF-funded “Center for Enabling New Technologies through Catalysis” (CENTC) are addressing the problem on a bigger scale by developing new catalysts for industry and combining known catalysts in new reaction schemes, gradually redesigning the way the world makes chemical products.
The resulting feature is out now:
Chemistry & Industry
Volume 80, Issue 2, pages 36–39, 2016
(I can send PDF files of the pages on request.)
Sneak preview of the first page - for reasons explained above I love the illustration: