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Environ Sci Technol. 2008 Mar 1;42(5):1724-30.

Life cycle assessment of an ionic liquid versus molecular solvents and their applications.

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Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA.


Ionic liquids (ILs) have been claimed as "greener" replacements to molecular solvents. However, the environmental impacts of the life cycle phases and comparison with alternative methods have not been studied. Such a life cycle assessment (LCA) is essential before any legitimate claims of "greenness" can be made and is the subject of this paper. The model IL selected is 1-butyl-3-methyl-imidazolium tetrafluoroborate ([Bmim][BF4]) and its use as a solvent for the manufacture of cyclohexane and in a Diels-Alder reaction was assessed. These uses are compared with more conventional synthesis methods. The results indicate that processes that use IL are highly likely to have a larger life cycle environmental impact than more conventional methods. Sensitivity analysis shows that the result is robust to errors and variation in the data. For cyclohexane synthesis, the industrial gas phase process is the greenest, but the three solvents compared for the Diels-Alder reaction showed comparable life cycle impact. Although ILs are not the most attractive alternatives, the result may change if their separation efficiency, stability and recyclability are improved. Because there are many kinds of ILs, with many applications, two examples are not enough to reach any general conclusions about the greenness of all ILs. However, the life cycle data and approach of this study can be used for evaluating the greenness of more kinds of solvents, processes, and emerging technologies.

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