Polyurethane elastomers could be made industrially from carbon dioxide (CO2) if a 1.5 million euro ($1.67 million) project funded by the German government is successful.
The German government, RWTH Aachen and the Technical University of Berlin are working with Covestro on the project which is an extension of Covestro's Dream Production processes for polyols from CO2.
The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is providing up to 1.5 million euros funding over three years for the project as part of its r+Impulse –impetus for industrial resource efficiency project which is part of Germany's Research for Sustainable Development (FONA³) framework program.
Covestro said that it expects 25 percent of the oil currently used to make polyurethane elastomers can be replaced with CO2 if polyether carbonate polyurethanes are used. The funding comes, Covestro said, following lab-scale production of the materials. The research will focus on developing a continuous, economic, industrial process.
“By participating in the BMBF Production Dreams collaboration, we are redoubling our efforts to develop cost-effective and climate-friendly production processes that use CO2 as an element in high-performance plastics,” says project manager Jochen Norwig, who works in catalysis research at Covestro in Leverkusen.
Small-scale tests have so far shown that elastomers manufactured using this process have the same qualities as those produced from petrochemicals. At the same time, the new process is much more energy-efficient and uses lower volumes of solvents than traditional processes, Covestro said.
The company adds that the industrial process should have “significantly better ecological credentials than conventional processes. Using less petroleum also means fewer processing steps to produce an elastomer, which reduces the overall CO2 emissions and energy consumption associated with the process.”
Using carbon dioxide thus conserves petroleum, which is a finite resource, and expands the base of raw materials used in the chemical and plastics industries. The number of plastics that can be produced using CO2 is also growing, said Covestro..
Covestro is aiming to open the first commercial polyol from CO2 production facility this summer at its Dormagen, Germany, site. This precursor will be used primarily in flexible foam applications such as upholstery and mattresses.