New technology in chemistry is responsible for some of the most critical developments in the world today.
Chemistry innovations can change the way humans interact with the world, from solutions to climate change to medical technology that saves lives.
The following are six innovations in chemistry that will change the world.
1. Sustainable Ammonia Production
Ammonia is an essential component in agriculture because it helps create nitrogen fertilizer. Nitrogen helps soil remain fertile and promotes healthy plant growth, meaning it improves the quality and output of crops. Without ammonia, farmers would have difficulty producing the amount of food people need.
The current production methods for ammonia are not sustainable. One such way includes the Haber-Bosch process, which involves high greenhouse gas and energy usage. The Harber process is responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than any other chemical production reaction.
Creating sustainable food-production practices is essential to combat climate change. A new innovation in chemistry is making sustainable ammonia production possible, paving the way for a more benign impact on the environment.
These emerging technologies involve the substitution of fossil fuels for alternative energy sources and water electrolysis to power ammonia production. While this production method remains small-scale, researchers are working on ways to use this for large-scale agriculture production.
2. MOFs for Drinking Water Production
By 2025, the World Wildlife Foundation projects that two-thirds of the world will struggle to find access to clean water. Even though water covers 70% of the world’s surface, only a fraction of it is available for humans and animals to drink.
With global warming, the world’s freshwater sources are depleting faster than they can naturally replenish. New technology in chemistry may help solve that issue. Investing in new methods to conserve and treat water is essential, which is why researchers are looking to organometallic networks or metal-organic frameworks.
MOFs — which typically filter molecules to help purify gasses — can also collect water from the air like a sponge. Research has proved MOFs take in water from air with as low as 10% humidity levels. When scientists tested this method in desert climate conditions, they could produce one liter of water per kilogram of MOF per day.
These findings lend an optimistic outlook for water production in the future.
3. Enzymatic Plastics Recycling
Plastics are a problem. They don’t degrade like other materials, so they sit in landfills, pollute the environment and harm ocean wildlife. In the Pacific Ocean, a patch of garbage spans the size of Texas — most of which is a result of plastic pollution.
Because plastic is key to many industries, it’s not practical to eliminate it entirely. Instead, researchers are looking for ways to get rid of plastic naturally.
New technology in chemistry has led to the discovery of enzymatic degradation of plastics. By studying microorganisms, scientists have found certain bacteria and fungi contain enzymes that consume plastics. These microbes can use plastic as their primary food source, breaking it down in ways not possible when left in the environment.
This chemistry innovation may be one of the most important findings, with lasting impacts on the environment.
4. Continuous-flow Chemistry
Flow chemistry, a process by which a scientist runs a chemical reaction using a flowing stream rather than in individual batches, has gotten a face-lift. New devices improve on the traditional methods of continuous-flow chemistry so researchers can perform experiments quickly and with less volume.
These innovative devices perform multiple chemical reactions on an automated platform and can do so with repeatable responses. With this process, researchers have greater control of the compounds they interact with and can scale up to produce large quantities of products.
A significant development for continuous-flow chemistry includes its use in synthesizing essential pharmaceuticals. Chemists are now working on using continuous-flow devices to create organic compounds, which can increase access and reduce costs for many prescriptions.
5. 3D Bioprinting
What would happen if doctors could just print a new organ for patients suffering from heart disease, liver failure and other organ damage? People currently use 3D printing to create items as simple as bag hooks to guitars and other musical instruments. However, scientists are now looking into how they can use 3D printing to create human tissue and organs.
Researchers are working to understand how they can improve the biochemistry of artificial organs to create living tissue that mirrors the vasculature of natural human tissue. While science may not be ready to make whole organs for donation, it is developing methods of creating small amounts of tissue that closely match humans.
Since much of chemical testing relies on studies and experiments with live animals, 3D-printed tissue could give chemists better insight into how different compounds interact with the human body and reduce the need for animal test subjects.
6. Semisynthetic Organisms
Chemistry innovations have also led to the creation of semisynthetic organisms. Every organism has a roadmap for its genes called DNA molecules. These molecules hold the code for organisms, from the specific proteins found in certain insects to the color of a person’s hair.
To create a semisynthetic organism, scientists insert artificial base pairs into the organisms’ DNA. This action creates an organism with properties not occurring in nature. Semisynthetic organisms might play a role in environmental engineering, drug development and genetic engineering.
New Technologies in Chemistry Change the World
Scientists will continue researching new developments impacting how humans interact with the planet. As research develops, these six chemistry innovations and more can help solve the world’s most challenging problems.