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The Evolution of Solvents in Organic Chemistry

Gallou, Fabrice, Lipshutz, Bruce and Handa, Sachin (2016) The Evolution of Solvents in Organic Chemistry. ACS Sus. Chem., 4 (11). pp. 5838-5849.


It was intended to be a very simple, innocent question: What was the first organic solvent? But the response from chemists throughout the world has been surprising: no one seems to know. Even the “ace in the hole” on such chemistry matters of historical significance, Jeff Seeman (University of Richmond), went quiet on the phone when this inquiry came his way. Ultimately, his response was “That’s a good question.” One can only imagine the possibilities: was it benzene, a contribution from Faraday back in 1825, that eventually became an industrial solvent showing good dissolution properties, or perhaps, ethanol, another discovery by Faraday, although dating its use as a solvent is apparently unknown. Whatever the history, whichever the solvent, what is abundantly clear is that organic chemistry has embraced organic solvents as the reaction media of choice. What an unfortunate phenomenon! Indeed, from the environmental perspective, the world is now paying dearly for these decisions made well over a hundred years ago. That is, it is now appreciated that >80% of the organic waste produced by the practice of organic chemistry worldwide is attributable to a single reaction variable: organic solvent. It is taken, in large measure, from our petroleum reserves, purified, then used to do chemistry, and then what? Where does all of that waste go each time it is removed from the lab, to be disposed of “properly”? Is it burned? Recycled? Or is it, contaminated with water, salts, and organics, simply buried in locations that today, are “approved”? No one seems to know; no one seems to care.

Item Type: Article
Date Deposited: 11 Jan 2017 00:45
Last Modified: 11 Jan 2017 00:45


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