Covestro Leads CO2 Feedstock Research Project
German engineering plastics producer Covestro is spearheading a European research project to explore the use of carbon dioxide and other waste gases as a new source of raw materials for the manufacturing sector.
Under SPIRE, the European Public-Private Partnership dedicated to innovation in resource and energy efficiency driven by the process industries, the cross-sector project known as Carbon4PUR is receiving funding of €8 million over three years, and the industrial partners will add to the investment sum.
The mission of the new 14-member consortium of companies from seven countries is to investigate how flue gas from the steel industry can be used to produce plastics sustainably, in particular by reducing crude oil input.
Consortium members include RWTH Aachen University; Technical University (TU) of Berlin; the German chemical research society Dechema; Imperial College London, the universities of Ghent and Leiden in the Netherlands; the French Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives; South Pole Carbon Asset Management; Grand Port Maritime de Marseille and PNO Innovatieadvies.
Covestro said the “unprecedented cooperation” will extend to companies all along the value chain, from the waste gas source to plastics manufacture. Specifically, the aim is to employ mixtures of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide generated during steel production to produce polyols, a key polyurethane component.
“Together, we are on the path to a crucial innovation,” said Markus Steilemann, the Covestro managing board member responsible for innovation, marketing and sales, who will succeed Patrick Thomas as CEO next year. Waste-gas mixtures from the steel industry can provide carbon for a chemical processes and ultimately be used to produce insulation materials and coatings, helping to broaden the resource base and reduce the climate footprint for the entire value chain, he added.
The new route to polyols production was kick-started by Covestro, formerly Bayer MaterialScience, in cooperation with RWTH. Last year, the company began using carbon dioxide to produce flexible polyols for use in upholstered furniture and bedding and is currently studying additional applications for CO2-based raw materials.
The process being explored is special, Steilemann said, because it eliminates the resource-intensive step of separating the waste gas into its various components. Instead, the gas mixture will be subjected to a chemocatalytic process and converted directly into building blocks and intermediates for polyurethanes, potentially reducing its carbon footprint by 20-60 %.
A pilot plant to test the technology research is expected to be built at Fos-sur-Mer in southern France, close to an ArcelorMittal steel factory and Covestro’s facilities at Tarragona, Spain. The plastics producer said it could envision delivering “innovative intermediate products” to additional industrial partners such as Belgian PU producer Recticel and Megara Resins, a Greek supplier to the coatings industry.