COVESTRO’S Dream Production project achieved a key milestone today as it started commercial production of plastics using ‘waste’ CO2 captured from a nearby chemical plant in Germany.
The plant in Dormagen started up today using CO2 to replace around 20% of the oil-derived propylene oxide conventionally used to produce polyols – a precursor in the production of polyurethane foams. Covestro has spent €15m (US$16.8m) on the new plant, which has an annual production capacity of 5,000 t.
“We have to change the way we look at CO2, and we will. Using it as an alternative source of raw materials is a solution to some of the biggest challenges of our time – finding a replacement for finite fossil resources such as oil and gas and closing material cycles,” said Covestro CEO Patrick Thomas at the plant’s opening ceremony today.
Researchers from Covestro, the CAT Catalytic Center in Aachen, and RWTH Aachen University have been working together to find the right catalyst to drive the reaction. Early trials of the process first began in 2011 at Bayer’s material unit before it was spun off last year and renamed Covestro. When Bayer first announced its Dream Production project it said it had been searching for a suitable catalyst for four decades and expected to begin commercial production in 2015.
Ernst Schmachtenberg, Rector of RWTH Aachen University said: “Making efficient use of the carbon dioxide molecule, which is normally slow to react, is a real scientific and technical challenge.”
Covestro says reducing the use of fossil feedstocks and saving the energy otherwise used to process that oil makes its method greener, and thanks to the catalyst and the considerable energy contained in the remaining content of raw petrochemical feedstock, no additional energy needs to be expended to make the low-reactivity CO2 react.
It adds that if the new CO2-based foams are warmly received, Covestro expects “significant production expansion”. The first foam will be used in mattresses and upholstered furniture. The company says it is working on manufacturing many other plastics with CO2, and says its vision is to one day largely stop using crude oil feedstocks to produce plastics.
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