Next time you pop a Tylenol, it might be made from pine trees.
Currently, common pharmaceuticals like acetaminophen/paracetamol (the active ingredient in Tylenol and Panadol) and ibuprofen are made from chemicals derived from harmful crude oil. But researchers at the University of Bath have developed a way to make these drugs out of waste products from the paper manufacturing industry instead.
The researchers investigated a chemical called beta-pinene, which is derived from pine trees. They then used continuous flow reactors to produce paracetamol, ibuprofen, and precursors to other pharmaceuticals.
Dirty fuels like oil are most commonly known for powering our electricity and transportation, but they’re also used in the production of a number of products like plastics and medications.
In fact, petrochemicals — or chemicals derived from natural oil or petroleum — are used in the manufacture of analgesics, antihistamines, antibiotics, antibacterials, rectal suppositories, cough syrups, lubricants, creams, ointments, salves, and more, as Orion magazine reports.
Our continued use of crude oil contributes to planet-heating air pollution, threatening human and animal health. Plus, our dependence on oil is expensive. The United States spends $1 billion on foreign oil every day, per the National Wildlife Federation.
“Using oil to make pharmaceuticals is unsustainable — not only is it contributing to rising [carbon dioxide] emissions, but the price fluctuates dramatically as we are greatly dependent on the geopolitical stability of countries with large oil-reserves, and it is only going to get more expensive,” the study’s lead author, Josh Tibbetts, said in a release.
This isn’t the first time researchers have brought attention to the use of the dirty fuels involved in drug manufacturing. A 2022 study sought to assess how much the modern pharmaceutical industry depends on crude oil and appropriate ways to shift away from it.
“We think that now is the moment to start the defossilization of the organic-chemical raw material base of the pharmaceutical industry,” the 2022 paper stated. “We believe that the research-based pharmaceutical industry, with its economic strength and innovativeness, can give an important initial impetus to defossilize the chemical industry’s raw material base.”
Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.