CO2 has the reputation of being a waste product that harms the climate. But Covestro is transforming it into a useful raw material for the production of plastics – in order to safe petroleum from which they are normally made.

Tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide escape each day from buildings, cars, factories and power plants. In the future, however, the gas is to do more than just dissipate unused into the atmosphere: Covestro has started to deploy CO2 as a new chemical building block. Thanks to a brand-new, unique technology, it can contribute to a much more eco-friendly production of polyurethane, a high-grade foam found in numerous everyday objects such as furniture, automotive components, building insulation and refrigerators.

So CO2 can replace some of the scarce petroleum that has been the chemical and plastic industry’s predominant raw material – until now. The method is made possible because both substances contain the element carbon. This “C” is vitally important to both the chemical industry and polyurethane manufacturing.

UP TO 20 PERCENT LESS PETROLEUM

The chemical building block that can now be manufactured using CO2 is a polyol, which is also normally produced entirely from petroleum. With a special process, up to 20 percent of the petroleum can now be replaced with carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is chemically bound in the polyol and later in the polyurethane, and will not be released again.

Since mid-2016, Covestro operates a new plant for the commercial production of this novel polyol at its Dormagen site, near Cologne, Germany to supply its first customers and demonstrate that the innovative process also functions on an industrial scale. The carbon dioxide it uses is a by-product from a neighboring chemical facility.

SLEEPING ON CO2

The new CO2-based raw material has been designed for use in flexible polyurethane foam. Its quality is at least on par with that of material made entirely in the conventional way completely from petroleum. Mattresses will be the initial field of application. Numerous segments of industry are already signaling significant interest in the novel product, marketed by Covestro under the name cardyon™, which stands for “beyond carbon dioxide” and refers to the expanded use of CO2.

The prize-winning new technology helps to expand the chemical industry’s raw materials base and therefore contributes to efficient resource management and sustainability. Thanks to the efficient process and the reduction in petroleum, this method is more environmentally friendly than the conventional production process. Viewed along the entire value chain, the production of polyol emits less CO2.

BREAKTHROUH IN RESEARCH

The new process would not have been possible if Covestro researchers had not succeeded in finding a suitable catalyst and then developing it in collaboration with the CAT Catalytic Center, a research institute operated jointly by Covestro and RWTH Aachen University. The experts had been searching for this reaction accelerant for decades. It enables the ecologically and economically efficient reaction of CO2, which normally is chemically inert.

Various other projects of Covestro are exploring how to make new building blocks for car seats, hoses and insulation material with the waste gas.