Green Chemistry and sustainable agriculture are inherently intertwined; farmers need green chemists to make safe agricultural chemical inputs. Green Chemists need farmers practicing sustainable agriculture to provide truly “green” bio-based raw materials to process into new products. It is a vital circle of creative interdependence – yet very few practitioners in either field are aware of this fact.
There are three main ways in which green chemistry connects with sustainable agriculture: as a consumer of agricultural products, as a source for remediation technologies, and as a producer of inputs. First, green chemistry is a consumer of agricultural inputs: biofeedstocks and biocatalysis are central to Green Chemistry. In its founding principles Green Chemistry encourages the use of bio-based materials; the 7th principle stipulates that chemists should, wherever possible, use raw materials and feedstocks that are renewable.
Second, green chemistry intersects with agriculture through applications for site remediation. Traditional farming practices leave unwanted chemicals in the environment—in the soil, water and air. Green Chemists are tackling the challenge of removing pollutants without in the process creating more toxic waste. For example, Green Chemists at Carnegie Mellon University have developed TAML® catalysts that can be safely used to remove specific chemicals, including pesticide residues (including atrazine and alachlor), from water. Such Green Chemistry innovations should not be viewed as a panacea for continued use of these chemicals, but they give communities a valuable tool with which to deal with contamination and to help farmers deal with the transition to more organic methods, and to more generally manage the use of recycled water.
Third, Green Chemistry innovations are necessary to generate greener chemical inputs for agricultural production. Green chemistry alternatives are vital to sustainably producing agricultural goods without continued dependence on toxic pesticides and chemicals of concern. One central question of the health and environmental communities is how close are we to replacing pesticides/chemicals of concern with greener alternatives? Promising work is underway in green chemistry; new pesticides are being designed and produced that can be more benign and/or more targeted. Biopesticides – derived from plant or microbial “pesticides” – is an area in which there is a lot of movement and potential for Green Chemistry to supplant certain chemicals of concern.