Scientists at the University of Bath's Department of Chemistry and Institute for Sustainability have devised a groundbreaking method to produce common painkillers, paracetamol and ibuprofen, using a compound found in pine trees. This innovation holds promise for reducing our reliance on crude oil-derived chemicals, a crucial step towards sustainability.
By harnessing bio renewable β-pinene, a component present in turpentine, a waste by-product from the paper industry, the research team has developed a technique to synthesise pharmaceutical precursors. Notably, they successfully transformed β-pinene into paracetamol and ibuprofen, which are produced on a large scale annually. Moreover, this method generated a range of other precursor chemicals from turpentine, including 4-HAP (4-hydroxyacetophenone), a crucial ingredient in drugs like beta-blockers and asthma inhalers, as well as fragrances and cleaning products.
The team envisions their innovative "biorefinery" approach as a potential replacement for crude oil-based products in the chemical industry. Dr Josh Tibbetts, a research associate in the Department of Chemistry, emphasised the unsustainability of using oil for pharmaceutical production due to rising CO₂ emissions and geopolitical uncertainties. The proposed turpentine-based biorefinery model not only curbs these issues but also utilises waste by-products to generate a variety of sustainable chemicals.
Unlike traditional batch processing, the method employs continuous flow reactors, ensuring seamless and scalable production. Although the current process may have a slightly higher cost compared to oil-based methods, the appeal of plant-derived, eco-friendly pharmaceuticals could justify this expense for conscientious consumers.