The earth is a closed system. Only sunlight provides an inflow of external energy. Humans have to create their environment from the resources of the earth. Until late in the 20th century it seemed to be believed that the resources on earth were unlimited, and that human influence had no major impact on the state of the earth. With the increase in living standards and population as well as new insights, it became evident however, that human influence had a great impact after all and that there was a limit to the resources on earth as far as humans were concerned.
Now we find ourselves at the eve of a transformation of traditional society, based on the exploitation of earthly resources, to a sustainable society. Enabling this transition requires a paradigm shift in technology and knowledge. Apart from solving the energy issue, the sustainable transformation of (recyclable) raw materials into products, using mild and clean conditions, is crucial for a sustainable society.
The transition to a sustainable society will primarily involve the exchange of oil-based raw materials. On the long run however all products must be made of recyclable raw materials. Because there are raw materials with functionally poor properties (oil consists of hydrocarbon) on one hand, and raw materials with functionally rich properties (recyclable raw materials mainly are sugars, proteins, lining etc) on the other hand, different types of chemical processes are required.
In the research program of the various groups the development of new clean chemical processes is highly represented. The asset of a centre of gravity Sustainable Chemistry is to have a wide range of expertise looking at challenges brought about by the transition to sustainable production including the transformation of recyclable raw materials.
A versatile approach to the problem facilitates the access to the best of new technologies. Even more important is the creation of focus and mass. By assembling a variety of expertise on sustainable catalytic synthesis, a systems approach to sustainable processes can be developed. Whereas in mono-disciplinary research it is customary to observe one single step in the synthesis process, we can now observe a number of multistep processes simultaneously.
The asset is focused on the functionality of byproducts for other processes and the avoidance of inherently difficult transformations by learning about new ways from other core expertise. By studying and optimizing the sustainability of whole systems, a far greater impact is obtained than while studying single steps.