Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Go Green

Jan 20, 2016
Volume 9, Issue 1

Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly making public commitments to sustainability goals and investing in "green" chemistry and the equipment and manufacturing practices needed to meet these goals. For example, in November 2015, Patheon, Biogen, Johnson & Johnson, Genentech, and Novartis, signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge and declared their goals, which include reducing carbon or greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and waste to landfill, and increasing the use of renewable energy (1).

Using cleaner energy generation is one way to address these targets. Power plant company FuelCell Energy, for example, announced plans to install a combined heat-and-power fuel-cell power generation system at Pfizer’s Groton, CT R&D facility to provide low carbon electricity and steam. The installation is expected to be operational by summer 2016 (2).  

Key components of a “green manufacturing” program are reducing waste, energy, and water use, said David Lynch, who heads up environment, health, and safety, and engineering for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)’s global manufacturing and supply in an interview with Pharmaceutical Technology. The company has reduced energy consumption by investing in cleaner energy generation, renewable energy, and using waste for energy, for example. The company cut water use in its operations and is working with suppliers to reduce their water impact.  GSK is working toward its goal of halving hazardous and non-hazardous operational waste by 2020 through programs to first eliminate waste, and then reuse, recycle, or generate energy from waste (3).

AstraZeneca China employed sustainable manufacturing design and practices at its solid-dose facility in Taizhou, China, which won the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) 2015 overall Facility of the Year Award for its Taizhou Supply Site Project. Optimizing the process and minimizing waste are primary sustainability issues that can be addressed through programs such as lean design, minimizing energy usage, optimizing plant footprint, and preventing failures in the manufacturing process that result in un-usable product, commented Martin Teo, Project Director of the Taizhou Supply Site Project at AstraZeneca, in an interview with Pharmaceutical Technology. In the Taizhou project, an area of focus was optimizing the utilities that surround the manufacturing process, such as water (purified water and water for injection) and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). For example, in the first year of data collection, over 10% of the annual utility costs were saved using an HVAC setback system that automatically reduced air changes during non-operational hours. “We have designed a manufacturing facility which truly supports the manufacturing process, and transport and material wastes are minimized. Best practice tools such as material flow reviews, materials staging, and spaghetti diagrams were used to make the ‘wastes’ clearly identifiable,” explained Teo.

Preventing release of API into the environment was another area of focus for the Taizhou project. For Betaloc (metoprolol) production, for example, the team identified an innovative electro-oxidation process to pretreat Betaloc-containing waste water prior to conventional biological treatment. Oxidation converts the toxic API into smaller, non-toxic molecules and removes more than 99% of API from the waste water, reports AstraZeneca. The process is fully automated and the cost and environmental impact of running the system are minimal. The company notes that the process copes well with fluctuations in API concentration.

With innovations such as these, scientists and engineers are on their way to making a greener future for pharmaceutical manufacturing.

1. “Pharma Companies Join the American Business Act on Climate Pledge,” Dec. 3, 2015,, accessed Jan. 11, 2016.

2. “FuelCell Energy to Install Clean Power at Pfizer R&D Facility,” Jan. 13, 2016,, accessed Jan. 13, 2016.

3. J. Markarian, Pharm. Tech. 40 (1) 36-38 (2016).

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