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Sustainable impact from a founding father of green chemistry

- Wits Communications

A Distinguished Professor of Biocatalysis at Wits, Roger Sheldon has published a paper on green chemistry in a prestigious high-impact research journal.

Sheldon, in the School of Chemistry at Wits, is a recognised authority on green chemistry and renowned as a founding father of this field – he developed the E factor for assessing the environmental impact of chemical processes. His research interests are in green chemistry, catalysis and enzyme immobilization.

Sustainable research impact

The paper Sheldon co-authored, entitled “Role of Biocatalysis in Sustainable Chemistry” was published in the 2018 edition of Chemical Reviews. This is a very high impact journal in chemistry that has an impact factor of 48.  

Impact factor (IF) refers to the average number of citations that an article published in that journal would expect to receive in a five year period. Thus, IFs are used to indicate the quality of a journal – the higher the IF, the more difficult it is to get published in that journal. In the field of natural science, for example, Nature and Science have IFs of about 35 each. Chemical Reviews, with an IF of 48, is thus an exemplary journal.

Green chemistry

Sheldon’s article is part of a special issue on sustainable chemistry in Chemical Reviews. Based on the principles and metrics of green chemistry and sustainable development, biocatalysis is both a green and sustainable technology. This is largely a result of the spectacular advances in molecular biology and biotechnology achieved in the past two decades, according to the abstract.

Biocatalysis is the use of natural substances to speed up (catalyse) chemical reactions. Catalysts promote chemical reactions due to the participation of an additional substance, called a catalyst. By using biocatalysts to improve the production of chemicals, Sheldon and peers have made major breakthroughs in green chemistry, including developing magnetised enzymes, which could be recycled out of liquids (and re-used), by separating the magnetised enzymes from the liquids.

“Biocatalysis is green and sustainable, and it has made enormous progress in the last two to three decades, and the performance can be dramatically improved by biocatalysis engineering,” says Sheldon.

Listen to Sheldon's inaugural lecture delivered on 8 August 2016: