Atom economy, expanding boundaries to incorporate upstream reactions

Paul Blowers, Hong Zhao, Paul Case, James Swan

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In this work, we address one of the overall shortcomings of atom economy and the limited scope of the boundaries chosen. While atom economy is not the only measure of a process' sustainability, it is a valid comparison from a materials usage view. With this in mind, many publications in green chemistry focus on atom economy as a method for estimating the environmental impacts of a reaction scheme to reach a desired product. The choice of which reactions are considered in the atom economy analysis, or the system boundaries, plays as great of an importance as it does in performing life cycle assessments. Most applications of atom economy begin their analysis with manufactured intermediates and follow a short chain of reactions to the final products. This ignores any upstream processing that was done to create the intermediates and may skew results to incorrectly favor one of the proposed reaction schemes. Here, we develop a simple expression for atom economy that aggregates overall reaction stoichiometries for a chain of reactions leading from raw materials to the final products. We find that by expanding the boundaries to incorporate upstream manufacturing of raw materials, the overall atom economy changes substantially. In order to fully utilize atom economy, system boundaries must encompass upstream reactions in order to prevent sub-optimal materials usage. In this paper, we calculate the overall atom economy of two reaction schemes for synthesizing 1,3-propanediol. This system was chosen as a case study to highlight the choice of system boundaries. By implementing the aforementioned equation to include the upstream processing reactions it is found that the atom economy of each process is no longer 100% as had been reported previously.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages8
StatePublished - 2004
Event2004 AIChE Annual Meeting - Austin, TX, United States
Duration: Nov 7 2004Nov 12 2004


Other2004 AIChE Annual Meeting
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityAustin, TX

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Atom economy, expanding boundaries to incorporate upstream reactions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this