Sustainability is now a key driver for the chemical industry and Chemists are innovating solutions to ensure a ‘greener’ future. From the everyday to the out of this world, chemists are impacting all aspects of our lives. There are hundreds of roles available for those looking to mitigate environmental impact. Here are five inspiring chemistry-led sustainability projects.
Reducing wind farm downtime
Chemists have developed a novel surface modification technology which promotes adhesion for coatings. The technology significantly reduces the time it takes to apply protective coatings to wind turbine propellers .Since the wind turbines are exposed to erosion ongoing maintenance can reduce operating times and increase costs. By reducing the maintenance time, the wind turbines can work at optimal capacity and generate more green energy.
Recovering valuable materials from landfill
Mining landfill sites is not a new idea. For many years iron has been recovered using large electromagnets. Today, analytical chemists have been analysing the waste in landfills to identify and recover specific materials such as precious metals and polymers. Chemists are looking into efficient ways to recover and then recycle dumped polymers. Reducing our dependence on virgin polymers derived from oil would be a significant step forward in sustainability. If successful, landfill mining could be an incredible source of essential resources. Since much of our waste is shipped abroad, mining landfill could provide significant income for developing and third world countries.
Creating locally sourced building materials
A global shortage of building materials is placing greater emphasis on local production. Polymer Chemists are developing new materials for application in home insulation systems. These systems can be manufactured and supplied locally with a smaller carbon footprint. This offers home owners sustainable ways to keep warm in winter and cool in summer and helps to reduce their energy needs.
UV curing solutions: inks and coatings
Sometimes it’s the innovations to the smaller everyday items which we all take for granted that can have the biggest impact. Inks and coatings are one such example. Chemists have developed UV curable inks and coatings that eliminate the need for solvents and significantly reduce energy consumption. The next challenge will be to develop sustainable resins and photoiniators. The coatings industry has embraced sustainability and are making huge advances in cutting their carbon footprint, reducing the use of VOCs, creating less waste and recycling more.
Uncovering raw materials
Lithium is one of the most sought-after metals in the world due to its use in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles. Australia is the world’s main supplier producing 51,000 tonnes in 2018. Chemists are helping to uncover more localised sources. Analysis this year revealed a large concentration of the precious metal near Redruth in Cornwall. More than 250mg per litre was discovered and the mining company responsible, Geothermal Engineering, estimates up to 4,000 tonnes of lithium can be produced per year by 2026. This would contribute to the 59,000 tonnes of Lithium the Faraday Institution estimates that the UK will need by 2035 and would help to ensure sustained growth of the country’s low carbon vehicle production market.
This is just a snapshot of some of the incredible and diverse projects that involves chemists from across the UK. To find out more about the latest roles in chemistry from chemicals, polymers and coatings visit
Dr Laura Merritt is an experienced recruiter and qualified chemist. Her PhD specialised in UV curing, photochemistry and polymer chemistry. Dr Merritt is the founder of Merritt Recruitment, a council member of the Oil & Colour Chemists’ Association, secretary of the Royal Society of Chemistry - Coatings Group and managing director of Surfex.
To connect with Laura on LinkedIn visit: www.linkedin.com/in/drlauramerritt.