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Cleaner, Greener Drug Manufacturing

By Chris Barncard

October 29, 2009

Nearly all pharmaceuticals are derived from crude oil and other simple chemical feedstocks through a series of complex, wasteful conversion steps.

"The major thrust of 'green chemistry' is to ensure that these steps generate as little waste as possible," says Shannon Stahl, a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

For 10 years, Stahl's research has developed catalysts that make use of oxygen gas — the most abundant, cleanest oxidizing agent available on Earth — as a more efficient and environmentally friendly driver for many of those conversion steps. However, without proven and safe reactors ready to be incorporated into production plants, pharmaceutical companies are still wary of the green approach.

Stahl hopes to overcome this reluctance with a $747,000 stimulus grant from the National Institutes for Health and help from Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and UW–Madison chemical engineering professor Thatcher Root.

The project will employ two additional chemists in Stahl's lab and develop the engineering needed to apply the catalytic chemistry.

"Our goal at the end of these two years is that pharmaceutical companies will have all of the technology they need to implement the aerobic oxidation methods — the green methods — for pharmaceutical synthesis," Stahl says.

This article originally appeared on the University of Wisconsin-Madison website.Reposted with permission.

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