Chemistry is all about you

Background article for chat 1 (held on 25 October 2012)

Chemistry delivers the building blocks for many sustainable solutions to people’s needs all over the world. The promotional film “Chemistry : All About You” shows the importance of chemistry in our daily lives and explains how chemistry provides the global population with access, in a sustainable way, to drinking water, food, clothing, health and health care, energy- and emission-friendly housing, transport, communication and education.

Few people are actually aware that chemistry plays such an important role in so many things that surround us, such as mobile phones, cars, internet. Chemistry applications are present in many areas and have a great impact on the way we live.

A century ago, chemistry was barely beginning to find its way to large scale solutions for human well-being. But now, chemistry assumes a much more crucial position than ever before. So many of our global concerns increasingly depend on the many innovations and contributions made by chemistry.
The video “Chemistry : All About You” shows that when it comes to daily life, chemistry has reached a long way. We are surrounded by facilities that consist of materials which derive from chemical processes.

Let’s focus on the following discussion topics:

Plastics and energy savings, energy efficiency
Polymers (plastics) that play a key role in transportation, insulation etc. not only contribute to energy savings and increased energy efficiency, but they can even become an energy provider.

Chemistry and waste
Chemistry plays a vital role in the re-use of waste materials with the production of very pure end products or products which can help for example for purification of water

The re-use of animal bones and skins via chemical processes result in the production of gelatin, used in food, feed (vitamins), pharmaceutical (capsules) and healthcare (bath pearl) applications.   The re-use of old iron materials can result in iron chloride used in water purification.

Chemistry and food
Animals (and humans) need minerals to survive. One of the minerals is Phosphorus. This is present in plants but in a poorly digestible form. Therefore, animals need to take up extra mineral phosphorus. This is present in rock phosphate but also this is not digestible for animals. Chemical treatment of rock phosphate produces a P source with a 90% digestibility for animals and therefore a very limited excretion in nature.

The video also addresses critical issues for the global population :

Water has also been helped by chemistry to sustain life. Water treatment solutions have been developed to prevent the spread of diseases. In places where drought and extreme temperatures have severely affected the water reserves, the plastic pipes have reduced the water waste and are helping the world’s growing population. These pipes give people in rural as well as urban environments easy access to water.

Food packaging is made of polymers. The thickness of the package decreased with 30% in the last 10 years which means, fewer material to use, more freshness, and durability of the food, which implies more security when thinking about what you are eating.
Chemistry is key to the supply of food. Fertilizers promote crop growth and help replenish the soil. New forms of crop protection not only fend off pests and plant diseases, but also allow crops to achieve higher yields. Plastic pipes make irrigation easier to install. This means more people have access to nutritious fruit and vegetables.

Modern materials used for textiles are made of a mix of natural, artificial and synthetic textile fibers with more practical use, which last longer and are easy to wash. Reduced use of natural fibers such as cotton reduces the need for water to grow these fibers. Cotton and wool have been largely replaced with the synthetic ones (acryl, polyester and viscose). The synthetic fibers that are included in clothing provide us with warmth and they are comfortable. They have become essential to our lives.

Synthetic fibres play another major part in our lives. They are present in hospitals, under the form of sterile bandages and special protective clothes, which are needed daily. Their safety, hygienic and protective actions make them crucial in medicine.
When in pain, chemical antiseptics are most often used. Besides their pain relieving action, they can also save lives, and can be found in drugstores in the shape of pills, syrups, powders. They can also be administrated with the help of syringes or perfusions; either way, single use plastics like them are crucial in order to prevent the spread of diseases.

The insulation foam that we are so dependent on these days, that is used in every house, is energy efficient and eco-friendly, as it reduces the emissions of CO2 and did not exist a few decades ago.
Polypropylene is used as a fiber to make carpets, rugs, ropes, even sport clothes. A carpet made of acrylic fibers is more resistant to paint. Most of the pigments used in painting processes, are produced by synthesis, are varied in terms of colour, and have a great resistance upon external agents such as light, humidity, washing. Paints are a combination of four main classes of chemicals: resins, pigments, solvents and additives.
Paint : when it comes to protection, chemistry has different areas in which its effects have been essential. Coating has a major role in our life as it protects the walls from erosion, from humidity, not letting mold to install, and is also colourful. It gives a large array of colours from which to choose and allow people to decorate the places they live in according to their wishes.
Composite materials prevent the overused devices such as the refrigerator or the oven, from an aesthetic scratch, and make them easier to be taken care of.

Technical polymers are the most recent discoveries yet and have enabled us to develop new technologies, to assure ourselves with energy for the future. We now have solar panels, windmills, watermills and so on. We have the power to preserve energy, to use it in a better way, in a way that will help us maintain a modern lifestyle, all of this thanks to the evolution of chemistry.

Plastics compounds and rubbers are used in cars’ structure to make them safe, strong and light and assure full efficiency of the car while reducing the noxious emissions and use of energy.

Consumer plastics help people to access the information easier by using computers, laptops, communicate with people abroad on the internet.
Information and communication technologies (ICT) are also dependent on consumer plastics as they need a device that enables the user to view the information needed.
The audio-video devices that we use daily, such as mp3 players, computers, video players, are made of strong, plastic materials and are fashionable these days.
International communications and mobile payments are now possible due to the appearance of mobile phones, also made of light, strong plastic.