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Welcome to Cleantech Chemistry

Hello there! Thanks for stopping by.

Welcome to C&EN’s Cleantech Chemistry blog. With your help, I will use this forum to explore the science and business of the many new industries that meet at the intersection of innovation, chemistry, and sustainability.

What types of emerging green technologies do you find most intriguing? Troubling? If you’d like to see this blog address particular topics, please leave a note in the comments section.

Though I often write about purely technology-driven cleantech start-ups for the magazine, since C&EN spans the full chemical enterprise, I will also look into the ways traditional chemical firms are navigating the new “green” markets.

Today’s issue of C&EN includes a profile of FMC (subscription required), a chemical company founded way back in the 1920s. I was able to speak at length with the firm’s new CEO, Pierre Brondeau. I noticed two sustainability “mini case studies” happening at the company. The first is a common risk-mitigation story. The second one shows the other side: a new market driven by consumer demand for sustainable products.

FMC makes the lion’s share of its earnings from agricultural chemicals including pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Governments around the world frequently prohibit sale or use of particular agricultural products due to risk to human health or the environment. For example, the EPA is revisiting the issue of possible health effects of Atrazine, marketed by Syngenta. (see C&EN story – subscription required).

Brondeau says that a large part of FMC’s agricultural portfolio is given over to insuring that there are replacements available and ready to go if any of its products have to be taken off the shelf. Meanwhile, not surprisingly, he says that FMC is weighing an evolution towards green agricultural products.

But its FMC’s algae business that shows the other side of the coin. Currently the company derives biopolymer ingredients like carrageenan and alginates from seaweed for food and pharmaceutical applications. But the firm now has a small toehold in the personal care business and is hoping that it will become a high growth area. Companies like Avon, L’Oreal, and Procter and Gamble are interested in using sustainably harvested algal oil in their products in response to demand from consumers for plant-derived ingredients.

In a C&EN cover story about research at L’Oreal, Lisa Jarvis explored the firm’s sustainability efforts.

FMC is not the only algae firm hoping to move into the high margin personal care business. Solazyme recently announced that it will work with Unilever to develop oil derived from algae for use in soaps and other personal care products.

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