less petroleum required
Thanks to a particularly eco-friendly technology, materials manufacturer Covestro teamed up with the CAT Catalytic Center at RWTH Aachen University to develop a method that makes it possible to use carbon dioxide (CO2) as a raw material for plastics. The innovative approach offers an opportunity to make production in the chemical and plastics industry more sustainable.
Due to its carbon component, CO2 is also a valuable chemical raw material. Covestro, a chemicals company based in Leverkusen, is taking advantage of this and demonstrating how the greenhouse gas can become a valuable raw material for everyday products despite being harmful to the climate. In this way, Covestro is broadening the resource base and supporting a circular economy in the chemicals and plastics industry.
This product is made possible by an innovative method using a new catalyst, which causes the CO2 to react with propylene oxide to produce certain plastic components known as polyols. This results in a new type of polyols with a CO2 share of up to 20 per cent, which Covestro is marketing under the name cardyon*. Among other things, the polyols are used to produce polyurethane foams. The material was initially designed for use in mattresses and upholstered furniture. CO2-based polyols that are used to produce bonding agents for floors in sports facilities are already on the market as well, and products using them as textile fibres have nearly achieved market readiness. Further potential applications include car seats or insulation materials.
„For decades, researchers from around the world tried to develop CO2 as a raw material for plastics but were unsuccessful. We’ve now succeeded in doing this, which means we can use CO2 for various fields of application. As a result, we’re making an innovative contribution to preserving fossil resources and promoting a circular economy for plastic production."
Dr. Persefoni Hilken, Venture Manager for cardyon®
Covestro has been manufacturing the new material in a production plant in Dormagen since 2016. Up to 5,000 tonnes of polyols can be produced there each year. At the core of the process are a 25-tonne chemical reactor and systems which integrate the carbon dioxide in polyols in the form of a raw material. The CO2 required for production is obtained from nearby chemical plants, where it occurs in the flue gas streams. Covestro’s method makes it possible to continue using it in a beneficial manner by chemically binding it in the polyol, where it cannot escape into the atmosphere.
Above all, the new method helps to conserve resources, as the carbon dioxide used replaces part of the petroleum which typically makes up 100 per cent of the base for polyols – this means significantly less fossil resources are used. By returning CO2 to the value chain, the technology also helps to expand the circular economy in the chemicals and plastics industry.
* cardyon® is a registered trademark