Volatile Organic Solvents (VOCs)

Despite their widespread use, a majority of common solvents are flammable and are potential health hazards. For example, approximately half of the 189 hazardous air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act Amendment of 1990 are volatile organic compounds, including solvents such as dicloromethane and tricloromethane.4

The VOCs that ionic liquids might replace are the workhorses of industrial chemistry in the petrochemical and pharmaceutical industry, with a worldwide usage of about U.S. $ 5.49 billion annually. The use of VOCs by these industries can be assessed using the Sheldon E-factor, which measures, on a mass basis, process byproducts as a propotion of production.

1Byproducts as a proportion of production for the chemical industry
E-factor analysis suggests how VOC use is distributed across the chemical industry.
Oil refining
Bulk chemicals
104-106 1-5
Fine chemicals
102-104 5-50
101-103 25-100

It turns out that what is commonly regarded as the "dirty" end of the chemical industry - oil refining and bulk chemicals - is remarkably waste-conscious when you look at the E-factors. It is the fine chemicals and the pharmaceutical companies that are using inefficient, dirty processes, although on a smaller scale, that is, much reduced volumes compared to the oil and bulk chemical industries.1

But replacing organic solvents is just part of the story: ionic liquids enjoy a plethora of applications in various domains of sciences...


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