Water leak at lab instigates search for waterless refluxing in the lab
Jul 07 2021
The Maulide Group at the University of Vienna’s Institute of Organic Chemistry recently showed how necessity is the mother of invention by finding a new and water-free way of refluxing instead of using a conventional Liebig condenser after a catastrophic water leak disrupted a local chemistry lab.
The Maulide Group joined forces with Green Labs Austria, a non-profit association, founded by students, postdocs and technical staff from the university’s Department of Functional and Evolutionary Ecology to facilitate communication and debate about practicing sustainability in labs. A premium objective of Green Labs Austria is to educate scientists to cut energy and water usage, plastic consumption and travel and to recycle as much as possible.
Professor Nuno Maulide, group leader of the Maulide Group, said "One of our research interests is the development of atom-economical chemical processes. We are convinced that saving resources on a macroscopic scale (water, solvents, consumables) is equally important as on a molecular scale. However, for many years we had been using oil baths and Liebig water condensers for our reflux reactions. It was a devastating, and costly water leak that prompted us to take action and look for ways to minimise water use, and with that the risk of a similar incident occurring again. It also gave us the ideal opportunity to utilise a more sustainable way of working which is very important to us. Dr Daniel Kaiser (Post Doc in the Maulide Group) was able to rethink our lab tools and methods without having a negative impact on our chemistry and worked closely with Logan Hodgskiss (from Green Labs) to share our experience with other labs looking to go green ".
Professor Maulide added "Green Labs Austria was enthusiastic about their experience with lab tools from UK-based sustainability specialists - Asynt. As a direct alternative to a water condenser, we have found the CondenSyn air condenser extremely convenient to use and its 'plug-and-play' installation has rendered reaction set up very straightforward. We have also found the CondenSyn air condenser to be very efficient at condensing refluxing solvents - even volatile liquids such as methylene chloride. In addition, swapping out our messy oil baths for DrySyn MULTI oil-free heating plate, not only improved user safety, but has allowed us to run three reactions simultaneously at the desired temperature, requiring minimal space and only one magnetic hotplate stirrer. This also reduces our energy consumption within the lab. With no loss in agitation efficiency, we have found that the DrySyn warms up our reactions much more rapidly than a common oil bath, and the temperature regulation is excellent. This new heating device is more energy efficient and we no longer have to find a way to dispose of degraded or contaminated oil from our oil baths".
Dr Daniel Kaiser, a senior chemist at Maulide Group stated "The fact that we're saving huge volumes of tap water and not having to dispose of large quantities of waste heating oil allows the Maulide Group to significantly reduce our impact on the environment. We also no longer need to worry about the hassle and potential risks of water use. The ability to set up our experiments to reflux without concern over water flow rates and extra tubing cluttering up the fume hood is great!"
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