Materials maker Covestro AG is pushing polyurethane wind turbines in China and calling for more government support for insulating Chinese homes.
At a recent Hong Kong media event, the German company was pushing its sustainability initiatives, including what it said is progress with plans to use carbon dioxide as a polyol feedstock.
A year-old CO2 plant in Dormagen, Germany produces a polyol with a CO2 content of 20 percent, which is safely bound in polyurethane foam mattresses.
A catalyst, co-developed with RWTH Aachen University of Technology, makes it financially feasible to split "energy-resistant" CO2, said former Covestro Chief Financial Officer Frank Lutz.
"We have now been able to replace 20 percent of carbon from crude oil with carbon from carbon dioxide," Lutz said.
Lutz spoke at a May 31 news conference in Hong Kong, but abruptly resigned the next day. The company said CEO Patrick Thomas would assume Lutz's duties on an interim basis.
Richard Pott, chairman of the Covestro supervisory board, said: "We regret Frank Lutz's decision but of course we respect this step and thank him for his contribution to the successful development of the company."
Regarding the CO2 feedstock, Covestro said the 25-metric-ton chemical reactor at the heart of the plant has an annual capacity of 5,000 metric tons. It uses waste CO2 from a neighboring chemical facility.
"The next step would be to have an even bigger production plant," Lutz said. "But the biggest step has already been made in scaling it up from a lab environment to a real world environment."
With the plant entering its second year of production, Covestro is willing to license the young technology, Lutz said.
"We don't want to use it as a proprietary technology, because it's too important for the planet. We want to share it," Lutz said.
On another topic, Chinese manufacturers are closely evaluating a Covestro PU solution for wind turbine blades, Lutz said. PU blades can be made quicker than conventional epoxy-resin blade, Lutz said.
Covestro said June 1 it received DNV GL certification, an international standard for wind turbines, for the newly developed resin system, which uses PU resin and glass fiber fabric. The company said the certification is its "market entry permit" to China's wind energy industry.
"We've shortened the production process significantly, because the polyurethane is cured much faster than epoxy resin," Lutz said.
He also called for more government action to stimulate demand for home insulation in China, since Covestro makes insulation.
He noted that in China, the biggest demand for insulation comes from the commercial sector, and he called on the government to jump-start the residential sector with regulation and tax breaks that encourage homeowners and builders to insulate dwellings, Lutz said.
"You need to force private house owners to insulate in order for the market to pick up," he said.
Lutz also said the company is eyeing China's burgeoning market for electric cars, which in 2015 surpassed the United States to became the world's largest for the plug-in electric cars, because they typically use much more of the company's materials than gasoline cars.
"In a conventional combustion engine car, about 4 to 5 kilograms of our materials are being used today," Lutz said. "In an e-car, it's about five times that amount."
Covestro's resins are used to lighten cars and shield batteries. Lutz also noted one often overlooked application: keeping passengers warm.
While heat from conventional gas and diesel engines is essentially free, he said, the more-efficient electric cars must generate their own heat, thereby draining the battery.
"Insulation of an e-vehicle is more important than insulation of an internal combustion car," Lutz said.