CO2 to chemicals: What potential has the utilisation of carbon dioxide for chemicals production? — CO2 has a bad image. But can the undesired exhaust gas also be used as a raw material? Not an easy task, yet researchers from all over the world are working hard on turning the climate killer as a raw material. And those, who believe this will remain a thought game played in ivory towers or think that these minor experiments will remain confined to the cellar laboratory are making a big mistake: The first production scale plant is already on-stream....
This material does not show its secrets: An absolutely normal foam, flexible and light and versatile, as is used in the manufacture of cushions and mattresses. But this is also not the reason why Covestro, earlier Bayer Material Science, is making such a sensation out of the polymer.
If the Leverkusen-based company is to be believed, the plastic will usher in a new era of chemistry. Anyway, a material has come into the lime light which otherwise makes only negative headlines: CO2. Actually, the developers have succeeded in replacing approx. 20% of crude oil-based raw materials which are normally used to manufacture poly-oil, the most important preliminary product used in Polyurethane foam (PUR), with the climate killer gas.
The 'Holy Grail' of Chemistry
Not an easy task, because CO2 is extremely inactive. Use is hardly possible from the thermodynamic perspective, if one ignores urea and carbonate production. But CO2 as raw material for polymers?
he sector has been working on this vision for decades, ever since the concept was described by scientists of the University of Kyoto in 1969. For a long time, the process remained science fiction – Catch words like “Dream Reaction” or the “Holy Grail of chemistry” show the status the “Chemistry from the chimney” had.
Now it seems the Grail has been found: Covestro had started research on the use of CO2 ever since the Bayer days. After successful tests, it was decided in 2014 that 15 million Euro will be invested at the Dormagen site to establish a preliminary production plant with a capacity of 5000 tons per annum. Another 7.5 million Euro came from Federal subsidies.
The next step for CO2
With the new flagship project, the Leverkusen-based company started the poly-oil synthesis on an industrial scale, in June 2016. The molecule on a CO2 base is provided initially for the manufacture of PUR foam for mattresses and cushion furniture. People at Dormagen are convinced that from the point of view of quality, the foam is as good as any material made of petrochemical raw materials.
“One must perceive CO2 differently: Its use as an alternative hydrocarbon source is the answer to the massive challenges of our time – finding a replacement for our limited fossil resources like oil and gas and to close material cycles”, said Covestro Chairman of the Board of Directors Patrick Thomas at the opening ceremony.
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