Since 2009, when Bayer MaterialScience (Leverkusen, Germany) first developed a catalyst that would make it possible to use CO2 as a feedstock material for useful chemicals, the progress made has been huge. Two short years after the announcement that, in collaboration with the CAT Catalytic Center, the catalyst had been found, Bayer MaterialScience opened a pilot plant, which used CO2, supplied by an RWE power plant close by in Niederaussem, Germany, to make polyols, one of the two ingredients of polyurethane. Tests demonstrated that the quality of polyurethane produced with these CO2-based polyols was at least equal to or better than conventional polyurethane. Encouraged by these results and by the positive response from the market, Bayer MaterialScience successfully switched the plant from batch to continuous production in 2013. And in 2014, the company announced it was planning to invest in a CO2-based polyol production line at its site in Dormagen.
The targeted completion date is in 2016 and: "We are right on schedule," said Dr. Karsten Malsch, overall project manager in a recent update on the project.
"If everything continues to run smoothly we will be able to start operations at the beginning of the coming year," says Malsch. If that goal is achieved, construction of the new line, which for the first time will integrate carbon dioxide as a raw material for polyols on a commercial scale, will have taken a good year to complete The line is designed for an annual production capacity of 5,000 metric tons. The idea is initially to use the polyol, which contains approximately 20% CO2, in the manufacture of polyurethane foam mattresses.
The carbon dioxide replaces some of the petroleum that these kinds of polyols and polyurethanes are usually based on. "The plastics industry has long been looking for an alternative raw material basis to relieve the reliance on increasingly scarce fossil fuels," explained Malsch. There is also growing demand for sustainable products in society. "We believe that our new process can offer a solution in both these areas."
The research and development work is still ongoing: Bayer MaterialScience hopes to further increase the proportion of CO2 in the products in the future. At the same time, the company also aims to increase the number of CO2-based plastics.