Case Studies

Advanced Process Technologies: Carbon dioxide as a raw material for plastics

Summary: 

Innovative process technology reduces petroleum use
-> Availability of combined public funding appears crucial to mitigate the high risk of early research and complement own expertise with partnerships along the value chain.

Covestro has been working for many years on the development of technologies to turn CO2 into a valuable resource and for its implementation in making polymers. This “waste” gas is an alternative source of carbon and can substitute fossil raw materials and be used to make building blocks for polyols – a key starting material for polyurethanes. The first breakthrough came when Covestro’s researchers discovered the right catalyst and process for an economically and ecologically efficient reaction. As a first product stemming from the newly developed technology, CO2-based polyols for flexible foam found in mattresses and upholstered furniture are already on the market. Other kinds of products for further applications are under development – for example to obtain chemical building blocks and polymer intermediates for rigid foams and coatings to be applied in building insulation and coatings. The new technology, currently under investigation, is expected to reach TRL[1] level 6 by 2020. The next step, after 2022, might be building an industrial plant for the production of CO2-based chemicals at large scale.

[1] Technology Readiness Level. More information: https://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/portal/desktop/en/support/faqs/faq-2890.html

How was the breakthrough innovation achieved?
Partnerships between research-based companies and application-oriented research organisations along the value chain are the key to success. With a portfolio of collaboration projects, expertise can be built up starting from low TRL levels. At Covestro, first samples of CO2-based polyols were produced on a mini-plant scale after only three years. Five years later, a demonstration plant with the capacity of 5,000 metric tons/year went on stream. To reach high impact, private investments have been complemented by public funding obtained from both German national sources and EU funds.

IMPACT
With the new technology, the use of petroleum can already be reduced by up to 20% in the case of CO2-based foams and 25% in case of elastomers. Also, the carbon footprint is better than with conventional processes. In the latest project, substantial reduction of process energy consumption is also expected by as much as 70%. This is an important contribution to sustainability and achieving the circular economy and helps to close the CO2 loop.

Reference information

  • Carbon4PUR - Turning industrial waste gases (mixed CO/CO2 streams) into intermediates for polyurethane plastics for rigid foams/building insulation and coatings Grant Agreement 768919 www.carbon4PUR.eu
  • enCO2re flagship project CroCO2PETs - Cross-linkable CO2–polyether polyols
  • r+impuls Production Dreams, FKZ 033R150
  • CO2Plus Dream Resource, FKZ 033RC002
  • MatRessource Dream Polyols, FKZ 03XP0052

 

Type: 
Technological