A Safer, Healthier Planet through Chemistry
Published April 20, 2022
The Earth Day 2022 theme is “invest in our planet,” and products and technologies made possible by chemistry help to do just that, enabling advances in agriculture, water treatment, energy efficiency and more.
Read on for examples of how the products of chemistry help improve our quality of life and contribute to a healthier planet:
The products of chemistry help protect the world’s food supply to feed a growing global population:
- Pesticides can help prevent the spread of disease and damage to crops caused by insects and invasive weeds.
- Fertilizers provide essential nutrients to soil to improve crop yields and help promote their growth. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture regulate fertilizers for the safety of those who use them and for the surrounding environment.
- Plastic food packaging can promote food safety and help prevent food borne illnesses. Food packaging can also extend food’s shelf life to help reduce food waste. Reducing food waste is a key part of fighting hunger and promoting sustainable management of food.
Did you know that by 2030 water demand will exceed supply by 40 percent? Products and technologies made possible by chemistry help enable water conservation, sanitation, reuse and transformation of contaminated water into clean drinking water:
- Before cities began routinely treating drinking water with chlorine-based disinfectants, thousands died every year from waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery and hepatitis A.
- Antimicrobial chemicals can be used to treat water so it can be reused safely for many purposes, such as crop irrigation.
- Antimicrobial products also can help treat and protect our water supply by eliminating harmful microbes and pathogens such as E. coli and legionella.
Vaccines have been developed through innovations in biotechnology and chemistry to help prevent or control the spread of disease. Chemical ingredients in vaccines serve a variety of purposes – some are added to inactivate a virus or bacteria and stabilize the vaccine, while others preserve the vaccine and prevent it from losing its potency over time.
- Wind power turbine blades, made from materials like carbon fiber-reinforced polyurethane, epoxy and unsaturated polyester resins, help deliver renewable energy to our nation’s electricity grid. Polymers and composite materials are used in glass and carbon-reinforced fiber for wind turbines.
- Solar power relies on silicon-based chemistry. In fact, silicon is the most common semiconductor material used in solar cells.
Sustainable Building Materials
Buildings can help reduce climate impacts while providing safe spaces to work and live. Sustainable materials can help increase a building’s resilience to natural disasters, provide better insulation, save energy and promote circularity.
- Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation creates air-tight seals in buildings, helping to make them more comfortable and energy efficient. SPF insulation helps buildings resist heat transfer and reduce unwanted air from entering through cracks, seams and joints.
- Silicone sealants on windows can help prevent air from leaving and entering homes.
- Reflective light-colored roofing membranes made of PVC or thermoplastic olefin blends can also save energy. Changing the roof’s color from dark to light can help slow heat absorption and reduce the need for air conditioning.
Energy Efficient Vehicles
Plastics make up around 50 percent of the volume of new cars, but only about 10 percent of the weight. Weight reduction in automotive design is a key driver in boosting fuel efficiency and reducing emissions.
Scientists are developing technologies to use hydrogen as an alternative fuel for electric vehicles. This is due in part to hydrogen’s ability to power fuel cells in zero-emission vehicles and its potential for domestic production.
Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are used for electric vehicles and portable electronic devices such as mobile phones, wireless headphones, laptops and more. Reusable rechargeable batteries help save energy and generate less waste.
We can all make a difference on Earth Day and throughout the year. Explore the Earth Day 2022 website to learn more about what you can do to “invest in our planet” for a more sustainable future.