A lot of enthusiastic users of technology are able to set up their own workshops without much concern to society. These people then have the option to turn this into a start-up and a lot of innovative work has begun this way. Dyson, Apple and a multitude of others all began because they were able to practice their craft independently. This is something that historically seemed to be commonplace among chemists and pyrotechnicians such as Rev. Ron Lancaster, founder of Kimbolton Fireworks who started experimenting on his own (probably) in a shed.
Recently, there has been a lot of interest in biohacking or DIY microbiology but not surprisingly, fewer examples exist for proper organic synthesis that isn’t dedicated to the dark side of underground chemistry. @SyntheticRemark recently discussed the potential value of the dark side on his blog. On YouTube plenty of examples of people carrying out benign chemical synthesis can be found (such as the synthesis of luminol from gloves!), but as far as I know there isn’t a lab that is openly carrying out practical chemistry as a “hobby”/micro start-up.
How would one go about setting up a legal synthetic lab independent of an existing institution? I’d love to hear from people who have set-up their own start-up custom synthesis companies as they obviously know what is required. What I mean is a lab that can buy reagents and do reactions without impediment from police or other authorities. After all, surely we should be able to establish a start-up chemical company? The following issues come immediately to mind:
- Waste disposal
- Legal/Health and Safety
The cost of analytical equipment is one practical limitation that is becoming a lot more manageable these days. The cost of equipment is coming down in price to levels that are almost feasible for private individuals, particularly in the second-hand market with so many larger companies downsizing. Even NMR machines can now purchased for around $25K, apparently.
Waste disposal is something that people might not think about until they’ve actually made something. This is something that the old-school shed chemists probably didn’t really worry about, but these days is very important ethically and legally. My guess is that small amounts of organic wastes could be disposed of with existing local government measures considering people get rid of old cans of paint cans and pesticides regularly.
I would have thought that you shouldn’t need licences to carry out synthesis, assuming you are not making controlled drugs, explosives or chemical weapons. What do you need in order to get a chemical supplier to deliver to you? What about insurance to allow you to rent some space? How about any necessary approvals from environmental authorities? What is the absolute minimum bureaucracy one must encounter to be able to carry out meaningful organic chemistry?