CO-based polymers offer further advantages to the automotive industry in addition to increased sustainability, according to Peter Shepard, Novomer's chief business officer.
“A large fraction of the carbon in the backbone comes from the carbon dioxide, which is already fully oxidized, so it is much less flammable than conventional polyols,” he said.
“This allows flame retardant use to be reduced.”
When the material does burn, it burns more cleanly and produces less smoke, Novomer said. “We've done side-by-side comparisons between our polyol and a conventional polyether polyol, and it releases about 40 percent less heat,” Shepard added. The foam is also a lot stiffer than conventional products. “You can produce a foam that provides more comfort at lower density,” he said.
Currently, Novomer's polyols are only produced on a modest scale, and are more expensive than conventional polyols. Shepard believes, however, that at full production scale, they would be cost-competitive.
“There would be a big economic benefit by replacing a proportion of the propylene oxide with carbon dioxide,” he said. “We use a catalyst that is expensive, but at scale with a decent purchase volume, that balances out and we can be competitive, as CO2 is 5-7 percent the cost of propylene oxide.”
Ford's Mielewski does not see cost as a problem, either. “We view carbon dioxide as an inexpensive alternative feedstock,” she said. “Depending on petroleum prices in the future, it certainly has the potential to be cheaper. We expect to achieve commercial deployment in five years, but this depends on the materials' availability which, in turn, depends on Novomer's ability to scale production through the opening of a commercial-scale plant,” she said.