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The Brazilian Green Chemistry School was established with well-defined purposes. Among them are projects to raise the competitivity of local industry through innovation in processes and products based on renewable starting materials. Thus new courses that are being designed for the school must provide basic knowledge of green chemistry as well as of the tools that are used to compare different alternatives and evaluate their chances of success. Brazil has a unique position as a tropical country with regions that face problems common to developing countries, as well as large and highly industrialized sectors of the economy that suffer from lack of international competitivity. The Graduate Program on Chemical and Biochemical Processes at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro was chosen as a base for the school and began introducing the new courses in 2012. We believe that our experience in preparing green chemistry courses that address local needs may be of interest to colleagues who work on similar initiatives or plan to do so in the near future.

Considering the many different aspects of chemical science and industry, Brazil is a relative newcomer to green chemistry. Although several isolated articles on the subject have appeared in journals since the basic concepts were proposed over 20 years ago, a comprehensive strategy involving industry, academia and government was only released in 2010.1  It is the result of a study conducted by the Center for Management and Strategic Studies (CGEE), a think tank which works with the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology and is instrumental in designing new government initiatives involving technical innovation. Questions related to green chemistry got significant media coverage during the International Year of Chemistry, celebrated in 2011, and were stimulated by the 4th International IUPAC Conference on Green Chemistry that was held in Brazil in 2012. World exposure to the issues related to green chemistry and corporate and institutional commitment to sustainability were reinforced by the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (also known as Rio+20) held in July of 2012.2 

Green chemistry can play an important role in developing research and education in Brazil. In order to better understand this role, some background information on the country may be useful. Brazil corresponds to slightly less than half the surface area and population of South America. It has common borders with all but two other countries and shares most of their geology and ecology. There is one significant difference, however: as a colony it belonged to Portugal (and not Spain, as did most of its neighbours). This implies significant historical, political and cultural differences.3  For example, before 1800 trade was restricted to the mother country while industrial and intellectual activities (including the press) were strongly suppressed whereas in other parts of the continent strong local cultures flourished. In fact, several universities in Latin America were founded at this time but not in Brazil since higher education was a privilege of the colonizers. When Spain was invaded by Napoleon, Spanish armies became involved in local conflicts and their presence overseas was significantly reduced. Ties to colonies grew weaker and, inspired by the ideals of the American and French revolutions, most of the Spanish speaking countries in the region gained their independence and adopted republican forms of government in the early 19th century. On the other hand, courtesy of his powerful ally (and Napoleon’s enemy), Great Britain, the King of Portugal and important members of his court were escorted to Brazil by the Royal Navy. They immediately established the Empire of Portugal, Brazil and Overseas Colonies. Many of the restrictions on the exchange of ideas were quickly removed. The Empire opened its borders to trade and established important functions of government in its capital, Rio de Janeiro, which became the centre of intense cultural and economic activities. It was the emperor’s son who declared the country’s independence while his grandson remained as emperor of Brazil up to 1889 when he was dethroned and a republican form of government was adopted. This apparent curiosity had important implications for the economic and social development of the country. For example, significant economic activity remained almost entirely limited to agriculture and mining which, in turn, were largely dependent on slaves who were only freed in 1888.

Today the Brazilian economy is one of the tenth largest in the world as reflected by its gross national product. However, the country’s economy remained dependent on extractive and agricultural products up to the 1930s (this was also when the first universities were established) and significant industrialization only took place in the 1950s and 1960s and mostly on the part of multi-national or state-owned companies. It is also worth noting that the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC) and agencies that offer fellowships and grants for research, such as the Councils for Scientific and Technological Development and for the Advancement of Graduate Education (better known by their abbreviations, CNPq and CAPES, respectively) and state agencies that support research, notably the Foundation established in the State of São Paulo (FAPESP) were also established in this period.

Although important contributions were reported before the 1900s chemistry in Brazil was taught at institutions that applied it to mining, agriculture or medicine (pharmacy, in particular). The first chemical society was established in 1922 and today there are societies in chemistry (ABQ and SBQ) and chemical engineering (ABEQ), as well as in specific areas such as polymers, catalysis and NMR. There are associations for the chemical industry (Abiquim) and the fine chemicals industry (Abifina) and related sectors such as pharmaceuticals, paint, chlorine, among others. Chemistry was recognized as a profession in 1956 and is regulated by a Federal Chemistry Council (CFQ), and by its Regional Councils (CRQs) that cover geographic regions where there is a significant activity in chemistry. Chemical engineers, industrial chemists, Bachelors in chemistry and chemical technicians are recognized as such professionals and their legal attributions depend on the respective curricula of the university or technical school. Presently, Brazil is making up for lost time. It has a significant chemical industry and a development bank and financial agency that promote its projects (BNDES and FINEP), large state-owned firms in chemical technology demanding areas, such as energy and fuels (Petrobras) and agriculture (Embrapa) and a legal and institutional framework for intellectual property (INPI) and standards (INMETRO). Science and technology are considered national priorities and have received significant financial support since the middle 1970s. The number of publications in chemistry and engineering and their citations in international journals well as the number of students enrolled in universities and graduate programs has increased accordingly.

The first industrial activity in Brazil can be traced to the production of sugar. In fact, a sugar mill was installed shortly after discovery, and production during the colonial period was significant for the times. Dyes extracted from Brazilian wood along with other plants were exported by the first settlers. Soap and alkalis were later produced and, in the 1660s, table salt and gunpowder were also manufactured. Soaps, gunpowder and plant extracts were produced on a larger scale during the 19th century and the first sulfuric acid factory and other smaller factories were established as the 19 century was coming to an end. Two world wars exposed the deficiency of the nascent chemical industry in Brazil. Most of its raw materials were imported and their access was difficult during periods of conflict. There was an attempt to use locally available substitutes, but most of these initiatives were based on improvisation and only served to reveal the perils of dependence on sources of materials and manufacturing practices from abroad.4 

The modernization and consolidation of the Brazilian chemical industry dates back to the 1960s. Petrochemical activity was expanding rapidly and the growing local automobile industry created a strong demand for fuels. Petrobras, the state-owned company that had a monopoly on much of the oil industry, built several refineries over a short period of time and had to overcome the difficulties involved in the operation of turnkey units. When its petrochemical subsidiary, Petroquisa, entered into joint ventures with other petrochemical companies it made sure that this know-how was included in the negotiations involving industrial projects. With strong incentives from the government three petrochemical complexes were built and several large firms in other fields (e.g., banking, construction) took part in the projects that established the manufacture of polymers according to projected market demands. Nowadays, sales from the Brazilian chemical industry are significant and are increasing steadily.

However, historically, it has not been very innovative and the considerably negative balance of trade in chemicals is growing rapidly.

A National Pact for the Chemical Industry, based on an economic growth forecast for the coming years and involving potential investments of around US$ 170 billion, was proposed by Abiquim, the Brazilian Association of the Chemical Industry.5  In the 2010–2020 period around a fifth of the total has to be invested in R&D aimed at correcting the deficit in the trade of chemical products, in expanding the renewable-based segment of the industry and on new opportunities that arise from exploration of the recently discovered petroleum reserves that lie far off-shore and deep under a salt layer. Its strategic goals are: position Brazil’s chemical industry among the top five, generate a trade surplus in chemicals and take a leadership role in green chemistry. A top Brazilian petrochemical company already produces green plastics and another is introducing green alternatives to substances used in the formulation of consumer products.

Brazil is in a very favourable position in terms of the applications of biomass as a source of energy and raw materials for industry. It receives a constant and intense amount of solar radiation and has access to: the largest concentration of biodiversity on the planet, abundant sources of fresh water and considerable diversity in terms of regions with distinct microclimates and ecosystems. In a relatively short period of time the country has accumulated considerable experience in the large-scale production of fuel, in particular those related to ethanol from sugar cane.1  A network to explore these comparative advantages was discussed in a workshop held in 2007, at Fortaleza, Ceará, a state in the northeast region of Brazil.6  This is the basis for the establishment of a national strategy described in the text on: Química Verde no Brasil (Green Chemistry in Brasil) 2010–2030.1  It proposes a network of centres, laboratories, pilot plants, and other specialized facilities that are involved in R,D&I on green chemistry. It works together with the Escola Brasileira de Química Verde (Brazilian Green Chemistry School) that is responsible for creating a knowledge base and preparing teams of qualified researchers who conduct the research, development and innovation activities of the network. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (also known as Rio+20) provided an update of the strategies for green chemistry in Brazil and its contributions were discussed at one of the technical panels held by the Brazilian government.

The Brazilian Green Chemistry School began its activities in November 2010 with a workshop on biorefineries. A series of subsequent meetings were held to draw up its agenda and engage its staff in the following tasks: (1) define the knowledge base for state-of-the-art R,D&I activities in green chemistry and form partnerships with industry to establish the priorities for these activities; (2) identify themes and academic units that are required in courses on green chemistry; and (3) organize outreach initiatives designed to promote public awareness of issues related to green chemistry.

The school is located at the School of Chemistry of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) which offers undergraduate courses in chemical engineering, industrial chemistry, food engineering and bioprocess engineering and a graduate programme ‘Technology of Chemical and Biochemical Processes’. The programme grants a professional Master’s degree in biofuel and petrochemical engineering and Master’s and Doctoral degrees in chemical processes, biochemical processes, process engineering and technology management. Graduate students are mostly chemical engineers or chemists, but the multi-disciplinary nature of the programme also attracts biologists, microbiologists, physicists, pharmacists and engineers. The School of Chemistry is located on the university campus, close to important research centres, a technology park and an incubator for technology spin-offs.

The Green Chemistry School has a staff made up of professors from UFRJ and other universities, as well as researchers from technology centres and companies. It organizes courses, workshops and meetings on green chemistry and related topics. Present activities include: setting up a Professional Master of Sciences degree in green chemistry; development of educational materials, experiments and demonstrations for students at a high school level (that can also be used for outreach activities) and a survey of opportunities for biobased chemicals in Brazil.

The difficulties in introducing new courses and areas of concentration at the undergraduate level are readily apparent by an inspection of the rules and regulations that are applied by the Ministry of Education and the Federal Chemistry Council to recognize degrees relative to the chemical professions. In the beginning of its activities, the Green Chemistry School only offered courses at the graduate level. They began shortly after the creation of the Green Chemistry School in Brazil was announced. As these courses were still not regularly held they took the form of ‘special topics’ which allow a certain degree of freedom in the definition of their content and the way that it is presented to students. Two of these courses were given in the second and third periods of 2010 (graduate courses are divided into four periods a year). These courses were partially based on classic texts and recent talks on the subject given at meetings in Brazil and abroad as well as the institutional arrangements and lines of research that are proposed in the green chemistry text.1  It became immediately apparent that there were terms, like ‘biorefineries’ or ‘green solvents’ that are ambiguously (and often subjectively) defined and others such as ‘design’ or ‘innovation’ that require more thorough definitions and the use of examples. There are other questions, such as sustainability, climate change and chemical safety, which are probably familiar to students even before they are exposed to green chemistry (it is recommended that practitioners should have at least a basic understanding of the issues that are involved). Finally, since the potential applications of new products and processes are to be adopted by the chemical industry, it is important that students become familiar with local and international companies and their characteristics and business strategies.

A rather more complex situation became evident when students were asked to show their understanding of the material that was presented but discovered that processes based on one of the twelve principles did not necessarily represent the best combination of the other eleven, nor the best alternative in terms of the real world. This circumstance led to the interruption of classes and the organization of workshops. Here members of the staff and researchers from industry and other organizations got together to discuss topics of common interest and define tools and concepts that should be included in lectures, such as metrics, supply chains and life cycles. These discussions also served to identify researchers in other fields that work with these topics.

At this point international cooperation played an important role in structuring courses and selecting the material to be presented. Personal contacts at the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York, UK, provided a very good model of how green chemistry can be applied to projects related to industry. Certain adaptations in the lines of work were necessary since the UK has strong R&D activity in the pharmaceutical industry and green chemistry finds wide application in organic synthesis while in Brazil innovation is more closely related to fuels and consumer products and main industrial interest lies in developing processes based on renewable raw materials and sources of bioenergy. On the other hand the types of problems that arise in university relations with industry and their respective feedback mechanisms are quite similar. Besides, as outreach activities are being structured along with courses, this aspect of cooperation with the staff at York was also very fruitful.

The ACS Green Chemistry Institute (GCI) is very active in promoting activities related to education and cooperation with industry and had sent a representative to the workshop that outlined the Green Chemistry Network.6  This was the starting point for a very useful exchange of ideas with GCI (including conversations by phone) which also provided materials used in courses and outreach activities. The text Introduction to Green Chemistry7  was particularly useful but also had to be adapted to local situations.

During the last three years graduate courses in green chemistry have been offered during the summer periods of 2012, 2013 and 2014. Green chemistry is also included in other courses, particularly those on the chemical industry, petrochemistry and organic processes in the oil, natural gas and biofuel sectors. A specific course on its impact on the chemical industry was offered this year.

Lectures in the courses are divided among the members of the staff of the graduate programme according to their experience in different aspects of green chemistry, usually among general topics covered by the authors and specific subjects given by professors in the respective fields and by invited lecturers. A typical outline of the course is given in Table 14.1. It is important to stress the origins of green chemistry concepts8  and their applications and implications for the chemical industry.9  Equally important is to point how the chemical industry has responded to the public on certain issues10  and local practices to improve its safety, such as adoption of ‘responsible care’ commitments.11 

Table 14.1

Outline of green chemistry courses

SectionContent
Introduction The development of green chemistry concepts: historical perspective and ethical guidelines 
Sustainability Common perceptions; growth and its limits; footprints; sustainable development 
Climate change and the environment Recent trends; indicators of change; negotiation and issues; potential consequences 
Chemical safety Public perception of chemistry; risk and contamination; regulation; goals 
Criteria for evaluation Value chains, metrics, life cycles 
Green chemistry in Brazil Recent activities; Fortaleza workshop on Network; studies by the CGEE; text on strategies for Brazil; the chemical industry and renewable raw materials 
Greening processes and products Case studies 
SectionContent
Introduction The development of green chemistry concepts: historical perspective and ethical guidelines 
Sustainability Common perceptions; growth and its limits; footprints; sustainable development 
Climate change and the environment Recent trends; indicators of change; negotiation and issues; potential consequences 
Chemical safety Public perception of chemistry; risk and contamination; regulation; goals 
Criteria for evaluation Value chains, metrics, life cycles 
Green chemistry in Brazil Recent activities; Fortaleza workshop on Network; studies by the CGEE; text on strategies for Brazil; the chemical industry and renewable raw materials 
Greening processes and products Case studies 

There are members of the staff working on catalysis, solvents, bioprocesses, patents and technology evaluation and management. Their lectures are complemented by talks given by specialists on life cycles, metrics, biorefineries, ethics, synthetic biology, etc., as well as examples of projects with specific industrial applications. A list of invited speakers is given in Table 14.2. Talks given by invited speakers are followed by a question and answer period and their implications are discussed in subsequent classes.

Table 14.2

Green chemistry courses: invited talks

Invited talkTopic
Eduardo Falabella, Cenpes/Petrobras Ethics, biorefineries, catalysis 
Regina Lago, CTAA/Embrapa Agricultural sources of raw materials 
Gil Anderi Silva, Escola Politécnica/USP Life cycles 
Álvaro Schocair, Schocair Associates Supply chains 
Rogério Mesquita, Cenpes/Petrobras Metrics 
Andre Conde, Oxiteno Greening consumer products 
Mateus Lopes, Braskem Synthetic biology 
Lucia Appel, INT Ethanol chemistry 
Marcelo Kós Silveira Campos, Abiquim Chemical safety, Rio +20 
Jennifer Dodson, Instituto de Química/UFRJ Outreach activities 
Adão de Mattos Coelho, Oxiteno Green surfactants 
Invited talkTopic
Eduardo Falabella, Cenpes/Petrobras Ethics, biorefineries, catalysis 
Regina Lago, CTAA/Embrapa Agricultural sources of raw materials 
Gil Anderi Silva, Escola Politécnica/USP Life cycles 
Álvaro Schocair, Schocair Associates Supply chains 
Rogério Mesquita, Cenpes/Petrobras Metrics 
Andre Conde, Oxiteno Greening consumer products 
Mateus Lopes, Braskem Synthetic biology 
Lucia Appel, INT Ethanol chemistry 
Marcelo Kós Silveira Campos, Abiquim Chemical safety, Rio +20 
Jennifer Dodson, Instituto de Química/UFRJ Outreach activities 
Adão de Mattos Coelho, Oxiteno Green surfactants 

Education is a challenging matter in Brazil. Although there has been considerable progress in recent years, the country consistently scores very low on international tests. Deficiencies in formal schooling are often pointed out as one of the main problems with technology development and international competitivity. By and large this is not the problem with the students that take the green chemistry courses. Most of them belong to the graduate programme at the Escola de Química, (School of Chemistry) which has reasonably high entrance requirements, so those who are admitted have shown good academic performance in their undergraduate courses and a certain degree of professional or research experience.

However, some of the students also teach at secondary schools and point out that there are certain aspects of secondary education (and even in some university courses) that still have not adopted modern approaches to teaching. They tend to emphasize the student’s ability to reproduce the material that was presented in class or to solve problems selected from lists suggested as exercises rather than stimulate creativity and an ability to think independently. Unfortunately, some of the observations below, made by the physicist Richard Feynman, winner of a Nobel Prize, when he made his first trip to Brazil,12  are still not completely out of date, even though he came before the 1970s (when modern graduate courses were introduced on a large scale and teaching at a federal university was still a part-time job).

One of the first things to strike me when I came to Brazil was to see elementary school kids in bookstores, buying physics books. There are many kids learning physics in Brazil, beginning much earlier than kids do in the United States, that it’s amazing you don’t find many physicists in Brazil – Why is that? So many kids are working so hard, and nothing comes of it.

In regard to education in Brazil, I had a very interesting experience. I was teaching a group of students whom would ultimately become teachers, since that time there were not many opportunities in Brazil for a highly trained person in science. These students had already had many courses, and this was to be their most advanced course in electricity and magnetism.

I discovered a very strange phenomenon: I could ask a question, which the students would answer immediately. But the next time I would ask the question – the same subject, and the same question, as far as I could tell – they couldn’t answer it at all!

After a lot of investigation, I finally figured out that the students had memorized everything, but they didn’t know what anything meant.

and

Everything was entirely memorized, yet nothing had been translated into meaningful words.

Finally, I said that I couldn’t see how anyone could be educated by this self-propagating system in which people pass exams, and teach others to pass exams, but nobody knows anything. I said, ‘I must be wrong. There were two students in my class who did very well, and one of the physicists I know was educated entirely in Brazil. Thus, it must be possible for some people to work their way through the system, bad as it is.’

In view of this situation it was quite clear that elements that stimulated the development of skills useful in the students’ real-life situations should be included in the courses. Besides the knowledge received in formal lectures, a student’s evaluation was based on specific assignments.

In order to address such deficiencies the courses also included assignments that would force students to think and to communicate their findings. They are outlined below.

The first assignment in the course is a literature search in Portuguese on Who’s Who in Green Chemistry, carried out by individual students. This exercise reveals the disparity of entries on popular search machines and the shortcomings some students may recognize in carrying out their respective searches. For the next assignment they form groups that select one of the different aspects that are covered, such as: websites, courses, research groups, publications, meetings, etc. and rank them according to certain criteria. Results are presented in class by topic, each member of a group discussing his/her contribution. This exercise usually reveals synergies among members of the group and leads to tutoring by peers. It also serves to discuss some of the material covered by Appendix 1 in the book by Winterton,9  notably the difference between the ‘open’ and peer reviewed sources of information, an important point that is not always familiar to students.

Panel discussions of current topics in the media that impact green chemistry are usually assigned to the groups that were formed for literature searches. Here the objective is to promote discussions on topics such as sustainability, climate change and chemical safety, which students were probably familiar with before their introduction to green chemistry. It is important to show how they are related to the material presented in the course (but cannot be covered in sufficient depth in the time allotted). Controversies on these subjects and arguments that arise on the part of groups that have particular interests in their discussion should also be stressed. Here, too, results are presented in class and important aspects such as the different perceptions of sustainability,10  the role of the IPCC, issues discussed at specific conferences (such as the COPs or ICCMs.) and regulatory measures, such as REACH are usually brought up by students. If this is not the case, material found in the book by Johnson,10  which covers the basic issues can be referred to but it is important to go over the sources of this type of information so that future practitioners of green chemistry can keep up to date on such questions.

Case studies of applications of green chemistry correspond to the final assignments in the courses. This work is clearly beyond the scope of the course but putting students through the required steps requires a basic understanding of the concepts involved and implies an understanding processes dedicated to ‘greening’ products or processes. It also provides an opportunity to verify how simple metrics can be employed for evaluating the impacts of green chemistry on the chemical industry. An important aspect is, for instance, the fact of using a renewable raw material does not mean the process is sustainable. There are many drawbacks in applying biochemical routes, as their kinetics are slower than conventional chemical processes, they require very dilute aqueous media and often undergo inhibition by the products that are formed. Moreover, to recover products such as alcohols and acids from dilute solutions demands a great deal of energy, and frequently difficulties occur due to the formation of azeotropic mixtures. Sometimes the E-factor of these roots is not favourable as higher amounts of effluents and waste are produced.

Introducing green chemistry courses into a graduate programme in Brazil is not a simple task. It must consider the main issues that are shaping the adoption of green chemistry on a worldwide scale while addressing its main applications to innovation on the part of local companies. Nevertheless, the large degree of interest that is generated by the students and the propensity of companies to cooperate provide strong incentives for investing the time and effort required. The proper course materials should cover concepts and metrics, include many activities in which students must search for outside information and interact with one another, and require oral communication in the form of reports and discussions. The Brazilian Green Chemistry School was the result of a study involving academics, industry and government followed by recommendations for its adoption over the appropriate length of time. One of the most important was to establish its initial activities at a university that has close ties with industry and does research on chemical and biochemical processes.

We thank the Graduate Program in Technology of Chemical and Biochemical Processes for the support of the Brazilian Green Chemistry School, our colleagues who took part in courses or discussions on their content who are mentioned in the text, and researchers in our respective groups who have gathered information or developed and tested materials, particularly Andrezza Lemos, Rafaela Nascimento, Gabriel Bassani, Yasmin Guimarães Pedro and Alexander Andrev. We are grateful to Mariana R. de P. A. Doria of Abiquim, for the data on the chemical industry. The interesting text containing Prof. Feynman’s impressions of his visit to Brazil was a gift from Prof. Fabio H. Ribeiro of Purdue University.

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,
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