Covestro to expand use of carbon dioxide as a building block for plastics

by Autocar Pro News Desk , 17 Oct 2016

CO2 serves as an alternative raw material, replacing increasingly scarce crude oil in the production of plastic.

On October 19, when K 2016 – the world’s largest plastics trade fair – opens, materials manufacturer Covestro will demonstrate that even elastomers can now be made with carbon dioxide (CO2). In the automotive industry, elastomers are found in seals and hoses for motor vehicles. 

“Carbon dioxide is increasingly becoming a fully-fledged alternative raw material in the chemical and plastics industries,” said Dr Christoph Gürtler, head of CO2 and Catalysis Research at Covestro. “We need to start acknowledging and using this climate gas as the useful carbon donor that it is. It will help the industry to reduce its dependency on petrochemical sources, such as petroleum, and to promote sustainability.”

New, high-quality material

Covestro is currently working in two collaborative projects on substituting CO2 for up to 25 percent of the petroleum in an elastomer precursor that is normally entirely petroleum-based. According to initial test results, the new material displays the same high quality as one made solely from petroleum. Its production is considerably more energy efficient, consumes less solvent and therefore boasts a significantly better eco-balance than conventional processes.

Carbon dioxide instead of crude oil: Covestro is now incorporating 20 percent CO2 into a foam component. The newly opened plant in Dormagen, Germany has capacity of 5,000 metric tons per year.

As well as an elastomer exhibit, upholstered furniture made with CO2-based, flexible polyurethane foam will also be on display at the Covestro stand (Hall 6, Stand A 75). The company has developed a process to manufacture polyol, one of the foam’s components, with a carbon dioxide content of about 20 percent. A new plant for this process was commissioned at Covestro’s Dormagen site, outside Cologne, Germany in June. Marketed under the brand name Cardyon, the novel foams are designed for both upholstered furniture and mattresses. 

Mattresses made with CO2

Belgian manufacturer Recticel wants to launch the first products on the market before the end of the year. “And that’s only the beginning,” said Dr. Karsten Malsch, Cardyon project manager at Covestro. “Our products are generating a lot of interest among customers and will be making their way onto the market over the next few months.”
At the same time, Covestro is driving research to further expand the use of carbon dioxide as a building block for plastics. For example, the company is collaborating with partners in industry and research to explore how CO2 can also be used as a component in insulating foam and other products of the plastics industry. 

A team under researcher Dr Christoph Guertler discovered the right catalyst to enable the use of CO2 for plastics production.

Covestro’s activities in the field of CO2 as a source of carbon are based in part in Europe, where the company receives support from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). In this partnership, Covestro is a major contributor to the innovation program enCO2re (Enabling CO2 Re-Use), which aims to network leading European stakeholders in the field to promote the technology. enCO2re will be exhibiting CO2-based materials for the first time at K 2016’s Science Campus (Hall 7, Stand SC 19).

With 2015 sales of 12.1 billion euros,Covestro is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. The main segments served are the automotive, electrical and electronics, construction and the sports and leisure industries.Covestro, formerly Bayer MaterialScience, has 30 production sites around the globe and as of the end of 2015 employed approximately 15,800 people.