Bayer MaterialScience: CO2-based polyols no longer a dream

Bayer MaterialScience today announced plans to invest 15 million euros in the construction of a CO2-based polyol production line at its Dormagen site in Germany. It's a significant step forward in a project that started years ago, when researchers at the company decided to chase their CO2 dream. 

As an inert gas, getting CO2 to undergo a chemical reaction is somewhat of a challenge. Even though in nature, plants and algae do it seemingly effortlessly everyday, the chemical industry had been searching for ways to make this "dream reaction" happen for at least the past 50 years. In 2009, Bayer Material Science, in collaboration with a number of partners, including the CAT Catalytic Center in Aachen, Germany, developed a catalyst that did the trick.

By February 2011, Bayer MaterialScience had built a pilot plant to implement the "Dream Production project," in which CO2 was supplied by an RWE power plant close by in Niederaussem, Germany. This CO2 was used to make polyols, one of the two ingredients of polyurethane. These polyols were successfully used to produce polyurethane, which was found to have at least the same high level of quality as conventionally manufactured materials. The next step towards industrial-scale production soon followed in early 2013, when the plant switched from the production of discrete quantities to continuous production.

Meanwhile, scientists from RWTH Aachen University conducted an in-depth investigation into the ecological balance sheet of the new process, demonstrating that that the process results in an overall savings of carbon dioxide emissions, compared to conventional polyurethane production methods. Moreover, market analysis showed a positive response to the project.

Today, following this successful test phase, Bayer MaterialScience announced its plan to invest in a CO2-based polyol production line at Dormagen. The permit application will be submitted to the Cologne district authority in the next few weeks. The line will have an annual production capacity of 5,000 metric tons, with the polyols to be used in the production of premium polyurethane foam.

The "Dream Production" line is scheduled to launch the first CO2-based polyols on the market starting in 2016. Processors of polyols and polyurethanes have already expressed considerable interest.

The polyurethane foam made with the new polyol can be used in many every day items, including upholstered furniture, shoes and automotive parts, and is also used to insulate buildings and refrigeration equipment.

According to Dr. Karsten Malsch, Dream Production project manager at Bayer MaterialScience, however, the first major field of application will most likely be mattress production.

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