DESCRIPTION OF THE CHALLENGE
The European Union (EU) is facing major challenges. Social, political and economic factors undermine the integration and the cooperation among EU countries. A range of pressures originating from global recession, slow economic growth, and high unemployment significantly depress the economy. The crisis is posing a serious risk to the industrial system. The rise of Asian and other emerging industrial powers has determined significant shifts in global trade and capital flows, altering the geography and inherent structure of value chains. Regulatory framework, volatility of demand in goods and services, access to international market and raw materials, trade negotiations, and energy prices and supplies definitely affect EU industry, requiring strongly cooperative securing strategies.
The chemical industry is one of the largest manufacturing sectors in Europe, and a strategic enabling activity. EU organisations and programmes have repeatedly emphasized its pivotal role in providing innovative materials and technological solutions to enhance and support the competitiveness of EU industry as a whole. Presently, the chemical sector is undergoing rapid structural changes to meet the demand for innovation and competitiveness on the global level, thus maintaining the leadership in the development of Key Enabling Technologies in the attempt of providing strong solutions for societal challenges such as climate change, health, and nutrition. The Mechanochemistry for Sustainable Industry (Mech@SusInd) network is formed to face several challenges which are in the EU agenda.
EU is presently calling for strong actions to stop, or mitigate, climate change via a suitable programme of measures. In chemical processes, the attention is focused on the reduction of solvent waste, the possibility to use less toxic solvents or reagents, atom economy to diminish the excess of reagents used and the number of steps involved in the synthesis and to prevent the need for purification processes. Another fundamental point is the quest for new raw materials which can be an alternative for critical raw materials or in anticipation of the possible reduction in global availability of certain materials. Finally, technological leadership, innovation, and integration represent the historical sources of competitive advantage for the EU chemical industry. In this regard, a significant opportunity is taking shape for EU to take the lead in a scientific and technological area that shows significant promise to beneficially impact the chemical sector in terms of product and process innovation, competitiveness and sustainability. This technological area is mechanochemistry. Mechanochemistry is the branch of chemistry focusing on the activation of chemical transformations by mechanical stresses in the solid state in the absence of solvents, though traces of solvents can be successfully used in this predominantly solvent-free reaction. Mechanochemistry can potentially accomplish in a solvent-free way the same reactions as currently are being performed in solution in laboratories and industry worldwide, with a drastic reduction of the solvent waste.
Solid-state reactions allow the exploration of new synthetic pathways which can lead to new control over stereoselectivity, stoichiometric efficiency, atom economy and formation of nanotechnology products. Moreover, the different processes of the reactions lead to the investigation and access to poorly soluble, but cheaper reactants or new raw material. Europe is fully in the position to take lead of innovation in this area with crucial returns for other strategic sectors of chemical industry and manufacturing activities. Indeed, history of mechanochemistry roots in Europe and the largest community of researchers involved in mechanochemistry still resides in European countries. Physicists, chemists and engineers form a multi-faceted community with long tradition in mechanochemical studies and unique expertise to spend in enabling technologies. Beside them, a community of technologists, 2 entrepreneurs, industrialists and investors are ready to address the exploitation of mechanical activation methodologies in the production of chemicals. For Europe, taking the lead in mechanochemistry is a unique opportunity of scientific and technological growth that intrinsically bears the promise of sustainable innovation in chemical industry and definite stimulation of economy.