Sep 02

Vice-chancellor’s Award

The efforts of the team have been recognised by the vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton: Christopher Snowden, who presented the group with an award for sustainability this August.

Dr Jon Kitchen said, “We are delighted to be recognised with a Vice-Chancellor’s award for our work here in Southampton. Our unique researcher-led approach to making chemistry research and education more sustainable is making real progress and actually making a difference in everyday practice in our laboratories and facilities.”

Aug 11

3D Printing for Custom Made Labware

3D printing is an exciting and rapidly expanding technique that could become more and more involved in the world of chemistry. For example, a nature paper (Symes et. al, 2012) reported a reaction in which all specialized equipment was custom built using 3D printing, controlling the outcome by printing reagents into reaction vessels. This creative application opens doors to smaller laboratories and enterprises that would previously only be possible with ‘expensive chemical engineering technologies’.

So how does this link in with sustainability? 3D printing can be used as a way around purchasing expensive equipment, often resulting in large savings in transport costs and using fewer raw materials.

An example of this was demonstrated by Blue Carter – a member of Dr Jon Kitchen’s group. He needed to analyse a solid sample, but the slots in the rack of the fluorescence spectrometer are usually designed for cuvettes filled with solution; solid sample slides won’t fit.

Instead of replacing the entire rack, the slide was mounted onto a 3D-printed ABS plastic holder which fits perfectly into the cuvette holder for solutions. For this particular printer / material, it cost around 2p per holder and under 4 minutes per holder on average (30 minutes per print-job with 8 holders made at once).


Cuvette holder 3D printed Cuvette holder in machine

Custom built slide holder made from ABS plastic using Da Vinci 2.0 3D printer. See right how it fits perfectly into the slot for cuvettes.

Blue’s slide holders were printed using a friend

‘s machine, but the University actually has several 3D printers of its own. Dr Peter Birkin’s group in electrochemistry are another example of how this has been put to good use – they create bespoke pieces of equipment such as air-sensitive X-ray cells and holders similar to Blue’s.

If others in the department were to use this technology in similar ways, it could be part of a movement towards a more sustainable, savvy and self-reliant chemistry, less dependent on suppliers for its needs.


Key facts:

  • The most common materials are the thermoplastics ABS and PLA.
  • Numerous other materials have been used including glass, metal, wood composite, and even chocolate! However, usually each printer supports only certain materials.
  • 3D printers vary in cost, with the cheapest at around £350 and the most expensive in the thousands. If you need one-off pieces of equipment printed, you may wish to contact others in the department to use theirs.
  • Below is a video, showing how the technology works:



A variety of cool lab devices have been printed by people around the world, and are up for display on thingiverse. The designs are available for anyone to download and print for themselves.. here are afew examples

Created by Intentional3D, July 2015

An adjustable stand. Created by Intentional3D, 16th July 2016

Microscope holder

A phone holder, to take pictures through a microscope. Created by shanos, 17th Aug 2014

DNA model

A DNA model. Created by mkuiper, 30th March 2015

A test-tube holder. Created by vinayi2, 23 Oct 2013

A test-tube holder. Created by vinayi2, 23rd Oct 2013

If you have any ideas for your own labware that could be 3D printed, please comment below, or tweet us at @SustainableChem

Aug 10

Sustainability in Chemistry Education

Our society is hardly sustainable, with natural resources being depleted quickly and global temperatures consistently rising. All the while, the growing population continues to increase demand for resources and worsen the situation still. Education that encourages people to change their habits, or even inspires people to propose solutions to environmental problems, is one way of addressing this. As centres of learning, universities are a perfect place to do this. As a student, I believe that all subjects – and chemistry in particular – could benefit from more of this education.

This opinion is shared by many; the NUS and Higher Education Academy have consistently found that students of all subjects are very interested in sustainability issues. Over 80% of students believe sustainable development should be actively promoted, whilst 60% of all students (and 75 % of international students) would like to learn more about it. Exactly half think it should be required learning from all of their tutors.

Chemistry offers the perfect environment to foster sustainable thought. Students handle harmful substances on a regular basis, so everything they do will have some environmental consequences. Thinking about how to minimise these whilst not affecting their goal is a key skill that can be applied to any task, within or outside of science.

Many who study chemistry end up directly involved in the energy, chemical and oil industries. These have enormous impacts on the environment, so anything that can be done to reduce this impact should be promoted. Even though many go into different fields, teaching sustainability topics within chemistry should still help to raise awareness and change attitudes.


What’s happening in Southampton?

Currently sustainability in the core chemistry course is fairly limited, although there are some chemistry and non-chemistry modules available that cover environmental concerns. In the second year, solar cells are covered and green catalysis is briefly mentioned in the core lectures. In my opinion, these are generally treated as asides through which theory can be taught, rather than sustainability topics in their own right.

Afew practicals have introduced that cover these topics. An example is the Redox Aluminophosphate practical, which uses heterogenous catalysis to outline the most efficient way of producing Nylon. This gets students thinking about using less harsh reagents and minimizing waste.

Next year, an acetone recycling programme and waterless condensers will be trialled in the Level 5 teaching labs. This should encourage students to do embed sustainability into their physical practice as well as attitudes.


What’s happening elsewhere?

Sustainability in teaching and outreach seems much more common in the US, where a more liberal education system is in place. A google search reveals the American Chemical Society website has far more educational resources devoted to green chemistry than the UK’s RSC, which are much more accessible to the general public.

In US University courses, programmes such as solvent recycling and green chemistry practicals are already well established. The linked posts are just a few examples of many initiatives that seem fairly common across the pond.

A teacher at the University of Arizona, for example, asked students to perform an experiment they had already completed and make it greener. This was very successful, with one student unexpectedly bringing acetone recycled from another course entirely. By using a recycled substance, the results were not affected. This is a good example of how encouraging students to think for themselves and see things in context can lead to ingenuity that rivals the teacher’s.


Can more be done?

Although the university is starting to implement sustainable measures, I find that these are poorly communicated (if at all) to undergraduates. The closed loop water pumps for rotary evaporators were recently installed in the teaching labs, but I have only just heard about them having spent 2 years here. Next year this could start to change – there are plans to provide online resources for students about making their work more sustainable. In combination with the waterless condensers and recycling programme, this could encourage students to see efficiency as standard practice, rather than a chore.

From personal experience, seeing sustainability issues in a broader context is what has changed my perception the most. An optional module I took – Global Challenges – focussed on the human impacts of climate change, and how industrial progress is linked to a variety of surprising and unpredictable consequences. Being shown why sustainability matters has essentially come about by luck – a product of the people I have met and the modules I have chosen. I am convinced that without having had these kinds of experiences, I would care far less about these issues. Therefore, exposing more students to sustainability through the core course could help to shape more environmentally conscious graduates.

Putting impacts into context – explaining why they matter – is key. As the lecturer Dr Simon Gerrard proposed, this could be done in the form of case studies, or at the least passing mentions in lectures. For example, if a substance used in a synthesis is toxic, this could be explained and any alternatives outlined. There are many opportunities to implement this into core material, which is something we may work on soon.

As well as changes already being made, there is still potentially much more that could be done to change attitudes towards sustainability without drastically altering any courses.


If you have any ideas about sustainability in teaching, please comment below. Or tweet us @SustainableChem

Aug 05

Southampton Wind-Modulated Extraction Leads the Way in the UK

In order to keep safe, the laboratory must be well-ventilated by fume hoods which extract air out of the lab… but the story doesn’t end there. The fumes are pumped out of the buildings through giant fans out of the chimneys on the roof. The wind can blow the fumes into nearby buildings and wildlife, so they need to be blown fast and hard enough to compete with this. A standard UK extraction system will blow the fumes out at a constant rate, based on average wind speed. However, on a still day the fumes will naturally rise up into the air more readily and won’t cause as much disturbance (see below). Using a constant extract rate means enormous amounts of energy are wasted blowing the fumes upwards, when this isn’t always needed.

Wind modulated

On the left shows how high wind speed can blow nasty fumes around into the surroundings – the fumes need to be pumped harder in this case. On the right shows a still day, in which the fumes safely rise into the air.

To solve this problem, an American engineer designed a wind-modulated system for building 30  – the first of its kind in the UK. This works by adapting the extract rate to the weather, finding and applying the most efficient rate for the given wind conditions.


The process of its design was ingenious. A scaled down model of the building, surrounding campus and city were placed in a wind tunnel which replicated the conditions in Southampton. The  model could be rotated around 360°, to simulate wind blowing from different directions; the fan in the tunnel could be turned up or down to produce different wind speeds. The extract rates were continually adjusted to give the most efficient one; reducing it with less wind and increasing with more wind. This was then scaled up to the real world, fitting a wind monitoring device on the roof, which allows the fans to adjust by feeding data into them.


B30 Wind Tunnel

  The model can be rotated fully to model wind direction

2 b30s 2



The system was built and 2012 and became fully operational in September 2013. The energy savings made have prevented a whopping 180 Tonnes of CO2 being emitted per year.

Following its success, Southampton plans to implement a second wind-modulated system on building 29 in the future.

There is a necessary balance between safety and energy use when it comes to laboratory ventilation systems. With this new technology, the University Southampton has found a more sustainable balance that could lead the way for other UK chemistry departments to do the same.


Jul 28

Waterless Condensers – Turning off the Tap

Essential to all life, water is the most important substance on Earth and yet it is so readily discarded. A recent study suggests that human activities pushing loss of liquid freshwater to an unsafe and unsustainable level. There are, however, measures that can be taken by chemists to use considerably less water.

A traditional condenser is an integral piece of kit for any synthetic laboratory. While essential to synthesis, they are exceedingly wasteful. When left on for 6 hours, almost 350 L of water goes down the drain (based on an average across building 30). Throughout the building, enough water is used from these to fill over 200 baths per week!

There are, however, alternatives that have been recently purchased by the department – they require no running water.

The CondenSyn™ is a  ribbed glass tube (see right)  with a large internal surface area for condensation. The Findenser™ also has a large internal surface area, but also has a water cooled jacket with “fins” to increase air cooling (much like a car radiator).



CondenSyn™ Close-up


Inside a Findenser™ – the glass fins give a large surface area 




Traditional Vs. Waterless Condensers




3 Condensers

Left to Right: Findenser™ , Traditional and CondenSyn™

As part of an investigation into the new  equipment, a reaction to synthesise a heterocyclic ligand was carried out using the waterless condensers ( CondenSyn™ and Findenser™ ) and comparing them to the traditional water condenser. They were heated to 70 degrees using a Methanol solvent.

For this particular reaction, all three condensers worked well and gave no significant difference in the final outcome. The two waterless condensers – especially CondenSyn™, were far easier to set up than the conventional one, with no need to fiddle around with tubing. Over the 7 hour reflux, the traditional condenser used over 500 L of water.

They’re not perfect – the Findenser™ is very heavy, which takes some getting used to; they’re not suited to all solvent systems either (although the majority of standard lab solvents are fine). Considering the vast water savings and their overall superior user-friendliness, they would make a great addition to a synthetic laboratory. We are distributing waterless condensers throughout the department and are keen for new groups to try them.





Some facts:

Dr Jon Kitchen’s group exclusively use these waterless condensers.

  • In a standard synthetic laboratory**, replacing just 2-3 traditional condensers with waterless ones would save  2000- 3500 L of water per week. As well as being better for the environment, this would save £230 – 350 per year
  • Undergraduates use much higher amounts of water than researchers (I personally can vouch for this!). Dr Thomas Logothetis, teaching lab manager, is therefore introducing waterless alternatives into the undergraduate labs, aiming to “trigger behavioural change from the start of practical work central to chemistry”.

**8 fume hoods, with condensers running 4 hours per day, 5 days a week


Jan 06

1 year of recycling

Our lab has been recycling our waste acetone for 1 year straight now, in that time we have recovered a total 451.25 L which has saved our lab  £513.88 (£2.85 per acetone 2.5L). We have considerably cut down the amount of acetone we buy from stores (though this fluctuates with day to day activity). This saving can now be better spent else where.

Jul 16

Reaction Optimization – Increasing reaction Sustainability

A small group of students have been set with the task of using the JMP Design of Experiment software to increase the sustainability of a variety of reactions. This is being performed by taking literature reactions, and working with the software to find the optimum conditions for a high percentage yield & low power usage.

There are two main things that will increase the percentage yield of a reaction that influence the power consumption; Temperature of the reaction, and the time of the reaction. By concentrating on these two variables, we will be able to reduce the overall power consumption of a reaction, whilst lowering the power usage, i.e. a reaction that usually takes 8 hours, at 140 degrees, might yield the same results if run for 3 hours, at 160 degrees. Whilst the increase in temperature seems counter-intuitive for sustainability, the vast reduction in time spent at high temperature could produce a large drop in the power used.

As well as power usage, for an increase in sustainability, solvents are also being optimized. Could a reaction that is normally run in DMF be done in n-butanol instead, for a great increase in sustainability? Or, perhaps the reaction that uses 50 mL of DMF could work just as well, or better if only 30 mL of DMF is being used?

All of this is being aimed for a large presentation to fellow academics, in the hope that they will take the information on board. If the reactions that are run everyday, for use as research precursors, could be optimized with a lowering of power usage, or use of greener solvents, then the sustainability of whole research departments could be increased.

Apr 14

Sustainability Awards Success!!

Chemistry staff and students have been recognised for all the work that has been going on around the ‘try before you buy’ project and related activities. See for some more detail. We aim to capitalise on this and build awareness and activity around a building a better working practice that enables the department to operate more sustainably.

Mar 11

Branching out – Other solvents than Acetone to recycle

We are looking into other solvents to recycle…

Ultimately we would desire the capablility to recycle Petroleum Ether. Depending on the lab staff requirements per day we can use anywhere between 0-10 winchesters of Petroleum Ether. This is a staggering amount of waste, especially considering the vast majority of it is used for column chromatography as a mixed eluent with Ethyl Acetate.

This combination of solvents is perfect for recycling due to the varying differences in boiling point between Ethyl Acetate (77.1) and Petroleum ether (30-40). Other combinations with  Diethyl Ether (34.6) are not really viable.

Unfortunately at this current time we don’t have the capability to recycle Petroleum Ether due to the fact that the manufacturer recommended the use of a chiller. Fingers crossed we may be able to aquire this facility in future, and decrease our waste production further.

There are a list of pre programmed solvents that can be recycled not just Acetone, if you want to find out more, contact me at, and we can look into facilitating your requirements.

Mar 06

Solvent Recycling

Our lab has currently recycled 51 winchesters of Acetone since November, which is a equivalent of 127.5 L of solvent with an approximate saving of £204 to our Lab.

The recycler is very easy and simple to use:
1) Choose the recycling program you want i.e Acetone. Other solvents are available but please check before using these.
2) Fill up Waste Container (Ideally the waste will be primarily Acetone and some Water with minimal contamination
3) Begin filling the internal tank.
4) For approximately 3 winchesters of waste (7.5 L). Program run time is about 2.5 hours
5) The purified solvent is then collected, and ready to decant after the end of the run cycle.

I have shown the Bruno Lab how to use this facility, if you would  also like to benefit in reducing your impact to the environment, as well as saving money for your department, get in touch.

Older posts «