EU Research Project Carbon4pur Successfully Completed Valued Materials from the Chimney

Editor: Ahlam Rais

How can gas mixtures from industrial production be put to good use to produce valuable materials and save crude oil at the same time? The research consortium of the project Carbon4pur has found answers to this question and has presented the final results after three and a half years of research work.

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Insulating panels made of rigid polyurethane foam based on the Carbon4pur technology.
Insulating panels made of rigid polyurethane foam based on the Carbon4pur technology.
(Source: Covestro)

In the cross-sectoral project funded by the European Union (grant agreement no. 768919 ), 14 industrial and academic partners from seven countries investigated new technologies that allow converting gas streams from steel mills into polyurethane products. The consortium led by materials manufacturer Covestro investigated how carbon monoxide (CO) and -dioxide (CO₂) containing blast furnace gas from steel production can be used as a carbon source for polyols. Polyols are intermediates and key components of polyurethane-based insulation materials and coatings, and are typically derived from crude oil.

The conclusion: Ecologically as well as economically, the new technology was evaluated as beneficial. "Supposed waste gas can be efficiently used once again as a valuable material and fed back into the cycle: The results of the research project have the potential to revolutionize production processes. This is a great discovery and a significant milestone on the road to a circular economy. Alternative raw materials become a reality," says Dr. Markus Steilemann, CEO of Covestro.

Wood coating based on the Carbon4pur technology with carbon monoxide.
Wood coating based on the Carbon4pur technology with carbon monoxide.
(Source: Covestro)

New Polyol can -be Produced from Gas Mixture

A key achievement of Carbon4pur is the identification of novel catalysts that enable the production of new polyols. With the help of these catalysts, the research partners succeeded in producing polyols using carbon monoxide (CO) from gas mixtures at a laboratory scale. In the new intermediate, 27 per cent CO could be bound.

Insights gained from Carbon4pur could also have implications for the CO₂ technology developed by Covestro. The sustainable polyol cardyon developed on this basis contains up to 20 per cent carbon dioxide instead of crude oil and is used, for example, in the production of flexible polyurethane foam in mattresses, binders for sports flooring or elastic fibers. With the new knowledge the technology could possibly be extended to the use of CO₂-containing gas mixtures such as blast furnace gas from steel production.

A rigid foam insulation board foamed on an industrial scale by project partner Recticel from Belgium.
A rigid foam insulation board foamed on an industrial scale by project partner Recticel from Belgium.
(Source: Covestro)

Findings as Groundwork for Future Research & Development

As part of the research project, Carbon4pur technology was successfully upscaled to a semi-industrial scale. First examples of applications have already been demonstrated by the Insulation business line of the Recticel Group (Belgium) and the chemical manufacturer Megara Resins (Greece), who have further advanced their product development on the basis of the research results. "We demonstrated that polyols based on the new Carbon4pur technology can be successfully incorporated into rigid foams to make insulation boards with technical specifications comparable to the market reference," said Dr. Geert Snellings, Innovation Manager at Recticel. Megara Resins has succeeded in incorporating the new polyols into waterborne polyurethane dispersions for wood coatings.

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Polyethylene is one of the most widely used plastic resins in the world, accounting for over 1/3rd of the global plastics market.

While the market has been growing in the past, it is now experiencing a reduction in price that can be traced back to several factors including trade disputes, bans on single use plastics as well as overproduction. These factors are further exacerbated by the recent outbreak of COVID-19, which has an effect on the global economy.

This 11-page Expert Insight further explores reasons for the decline as well as possible strategies to mitigate these problems.

In addition, as part of Carbon4pur, RWTH Aachen University has investigated the acceptance of carbon capture and utilization (CCU) using the example of insulation boards in a scientific study. The term stands for the capture of carbon dioxide and its use for further chemical processes. "We found that the public still knows far too little about CCU technology. However, when end users receive adequate information, a generally positive attitude emerges," explains Prof. Dr. Martina Ziefle, Chair of Communications Science at RWTH Aachen University. "Nevertheless, there is still a remaining need to increase awareness of CCU to strengthen the technology’s and product’s acceptance."

Research Alliance Can Create Jobs

Carbon4pur is a unique example of cooperation between partners from the entire value chain. As such, the novel collaboration between the steel and chemical industry was evaluated at the Marseille-Fos site in France. There, an Arcelor Mittal steel mill and a Covestro production plant are located in immediate proximity. "The cross-sectoral project has once again strengthened the idea of alliance in the European industry," said Dr. Alexis Bazzanella from Dechema. "At the same time, projects like Carbon4pur show that European commitment to climate protection and resource efficiency can create and secure jobs."

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