Eco-adaptive chemistry and technology
Eco-adaptive chemistry and technology
Is this the Green Revolution of the 21st century?
Learning from nature, imitating nature, adapting processes from nature – man has been trying to do all this since the very beginning. Biomimetic technology is pioneering these efforts. An internal research group of HUMINTECH company is now going along with them and has been working on the question of how complex processes from nature can be reproduced in chemistry. The term for this: eco-adaptive chemistry and technology.
Green chemistry as the first answer to the increasing chemophobia in society
After the development of so-called green chemistry at the end of the last millennium, biomimetic or near-natural technology recently appeared on the scientific stage as a logical development.
Green chemistry is committed to preventive environmental and health protection in the development and manufacture of innovative products. Twelve principles were formulated which must be adhered to. Among other things, renewable raw materials and low-waste technology should be used and the products should be biodegradable. The aim is to minimize the impact on people and the environment. Biomimetic technologies aim to imitate chemical tools and materials from nature at the molecular level.
Nature and chemistry in harmony
The researchers in Dr. Irina Perminova’s group go one step further: In order to bring chemistry and nature into harmony, more is needed than just near-natural approaches. Their concept of eco-adaptive chemistry and technology aims to adapt nature. It uses the methods and results of chemistry to understand the molecular mechanisms of self-organization that make biogeochemical systems sustainable and adaptable. Based on this understanding, the researchers are convinced that it will be possible to reproduce the mechanisms of nature by designing nature-like systems, materials and technological processes.
Humic acids are complex, natural systems with life-sustaining significance
The concept was born out of research into the multiple functions of humic acids in all ecosystems of the world. A deeper understanding of the chemical mechanisms underlying these functions can be the basis for an eco-adaptive design of new, naturally inspired humic acids. These designer humic acids could be self-composing and could be used, for example, for soil and water remediation, carbon sequestration, soil fertility restoration and plant nutrition. The idea is to use humic acids as a polyfunctional matrix in which reactive centers are incorporated to ensure the reproducibility of the required properties. The approach was developed ten years ago in collaboration with Dr. Kirk Hatfield from the University of Florida.
Humic substances fulfil the criteria of green chemistry
One of the most convincing arguments for the use of humic acids as raw material for chemical production is the excellent compatibility with the principles of green chemistry: humic acids have no negative effects on living organisms. They are water-soluble and surface-active, so they can be used for both water-based technologies and water-based chemicals. Due to their amphiphilic character, humic acids are also suitable as carriers of hydrophobic components, e.g. in drugs.
Humic acids perform many vital functions in the environment
After all, it is the interplay of these properties that provides for the manifold life-sustaining functions of humic acids in the environment. The accumulation function, for example, includes the ability to form geochemical barriers that retain organic compounds. Such an ability can be usefully applied to the remediation of water bodies, especially groundwater. One of the most important functions of humic acids is to support the water retention capacity and thus the important function of our soil as a water reservoir. And finally, humic acids in soil have a depot and supply function. They bind micronutrients in a bioavailable form and thus keep them available for the plants over a long period of time according to their needs.
Against this background, humic substance-based products appear more than suitable for the development of nature-inspired green agriculture and remediation technologies. In the future, they could at least usefully supplement, if not replace, the controversial and much criticized agrochemicals.