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Like sugar for poison: glucose as a substitute for benzene.

Authors
Journal
Environmental Health Perspectives
0091-6765
Publisher
Environmental Health Perspectives
Publication Date
Keywords
  • Research Article
Disciplines
  • Chemistry

Abstract

Innovations Like Sugar for Poison: Glucose ~asa S~ubstitmute f Bezene - Scientists searching for a replacement for toxic substances in chemical manufacturing may have come up with a sweet solution: glucose. Glucose, the body's main fuel, is found in certain foods and also formed by the breakdown of sugars and starches. It may one day be a replacement for benzene, a highly regulated compound that is ubiqui- tous in the chemical industry (12 billion pounds were produced in the United States in 1993). Benzene helps make jeans blue- it's the feedstock for indigo dye-and ice cream vanilla flavored-it's the source of vanillin. It's also the starting point for a number of important industrial chemicals including hydroquinone, used in film devel- oping, phenol, used to make solvents, and adipic acid, which is used to make nylon. Benzene is also a potent carcinogen. "Benzene is quite toxic. It's nobody's friend. Companies don't like it because they have to comply with [benzene] regulations, and they're expensive. Chemists just don't like to handle it. Whereas with glucose, nobody has any concerns about it," says Stephen DeVito of the EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. Living Catalysts The basic research on replacing benzene with glucose is being carried out at Michigan State University by chemist John Frost, whose work is funded primarily by the EPA and the National Science Foundation. Frost's research is an example of "green chemistry," an attempt to incorporate envi- ronmental concerns into the chemical man- ufacturing process. It focuses on creating processes that avoid toxic emissions and harmful by-products. Glucose-based chem- istry, says Frost, needs only water and tem- Shaking things up. Researcher John Frost is putting a 'green" twist on chemical manufacturing. peratures typically no body temperature. Benzene-b o,n7 the other hand, are energy-intensive and demand high temperatures. The process of substituting glucose for benzene involves biocatalysis: using bacteria

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