Project Drawdown, Greener Pharma Using Blue Light, Big Pharma to Use AI to Recycle Chemicals from H2O

by | Jul 13, 2022 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

Project Drawdown, plus greener pharmaceuticals using blue light technology. Also, Big Pharma to use AI to recycle chemicals from H2O.



The chemical industry generates an enormous amount of waste—manufacture of products like pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and fertilizers produces waste products consisting of a large number of molecules. Chemists have long sought what they describe as “circular chemistry”—where the waste created by one process is used as base material to create other products. But finding a way to do it has been problematic. That’s because even a waste sample with a small number of molecules can generate millions of routes toward the creation of a new product.  

An international team of researchers has developed a computer system that can analyze a sample of chemical waste and create the routes to synthesize new, useful chemicals. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the group describes the work that went into creating the system and how well it worked when they tested it by synthesizing chemicals from waste samples. 

The researchers used a computer system designed to understand the intricacies of complicated entities based on single samples. The original platform was developed by a team at a company called Alchemy, based in Indiana. The system that can analyze a sample of chemical waste and create the routes to synthesize new, useful chemicals. 

Why does reusing chemical waste to make other products matter to us?  Chemicals from products like pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and fertilizers produce waste products that often are unable to be filtered out in wastewater treatment plants, or which end up polluting our waterways and aquifers and destroying biodiversity. Recycling these large molecule chemicals can cut down on chemical waste.

DEEPER DIVE:, Journal of Nature



Sticking with a chemistry theme, Synthesizing small-molecule drugs normally requires several steps, each one creating waste products and solvent waste—that are often toxic and difficult to dispose of safely. Currently, it’s estimated that for every pound of drug made, around 50 pounds of waste is produced. That’s enormously inefficient. 

So, chemistry researchers at the University of Bath in England have developed a new method using blue light to create pharmaceuticals in a more sustainable way, significantly reducing the amount of energy needed and the chemical waste created in the manufacturing process. The team at Bath, led by Dr. Alex Cresswell, a Royal Society University Research Fellow in the University’s Department of Chemistry, has developed a new way of synthesizing nitrogen-containing chemicals called primary amines, which are used in more than half of all pharmaceuticals.

The method uses a catalyst, activated by blue light, to speed up the reaction, and uses fewer steps, less energy and dramatically cuts down the waste created by drug developmentSo why does this revolutionary way to catalyze chemical reactions in the making of pharmaceuticals matter to us? As Dr. Cresswell said in an interview with, “People don’t really think about the pharmaceutical industry when it comes to carbon emissions, but some studies have calculated that big pharma emits more than the automotive industry.”

The team is now collaborating with several pharmaceutical companies to scale up the process. 

DEEPER DIVE:, University of Bath, Science Daily, LabManager



We report constantly at The Climate Daily of companies, countries and individuals looking to get to net-zero. According to the United Nations’ Net Zero coalition, net zero is defined as “cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere, by oceans and forests for instance.”

The Paris Agreement calls for global net zero by 2050. Let’s say that happens. Let’s say January 1, 2050 arrives, and the world’s human population has coalesced between now and then we achieve net zero. Then what? What comes after? What happens on January 2, 2050? Well it’s called Drawdown.

According to the bestselling book, Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken, Drawdown is the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. This is the point when we begin the process of stopping further climate change and averting potentially catastrophic warming. Ideally, that would be the day after we reach net zero. That’s the goal. Drawdown.

And according to the folks at Project Drawdown ( there are three things we can do to achieve net zero, and afterward, to drastically help the planet restore itself. First of course, is reduce sources. Second is to support natural carbon sinks. Broadly, those sinks are the land and the oceans. Third, we must improve society—fostering equality for all.

Project Drawdown has resources like Climate Solutions 101, Drawdown Insights, and of course The Book. The website also has great programs like Drawdown Labs, Lift (policy making) and Stories. Why does the work of Project Drawdown matter to us? It conducts ongoing review and analysis of practices and technologies that are able to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere which are 1) currently available, 2) growing in scale, 3) financially viable, 4) able to have a net positive impact, and 5) quantifiable under different scenarios. Its work shows the world can reach drawdown by mid-century if we make the best use of all existing climate solutions.

DEEPER DIVE: UN NetZero Coalition, Project Drawdown