Climate change and depletion of natural resources are probably the most worrying global trends cited by our scientists. The weather is becoming more extreme, greenhouse gases are being emitted from all over the world and the world population is spiralling, placing enormous pressure on our natural resources, which are becoming depleted. But high-tech polymers can help to meet our energy needs in the future.
Whilst the population can’t be prevented from growing, Covestro is developing solutions which use energy more wisely, and save resources so that we reduce the impact of climate change and growth.
It is true, plastics are made from oil and other carbon sources. But since they make effective insulation materials for buildings, pipes and industrial installations, they significantly reduce fossil fuel consumption. During their lifecycle, polyurethane hard foams for example – which are seen as the best industrially produced insulation material – save up to 70 times the energy used to manufacture them. Cars made using lightweight plastics also help the environment because they use less fuel, and as a result less carbon dioxide is emitted.
Covestro is also keeping its own house in order: the company is constantly improving its production processes with the aim of reducing consumption of oil, electricity, steam and water.
CO2 as a new raw material
Covestro has joined forces with partners to initiate a number of projects which turn the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into a useful raw material that can replace oil as a building block for plastics. The first CO₂ based foam precursors should be launched in 2016, and other types of plastics made this way could follow.
Collaborating with a partner, the company has also developed a new process in the production of chlorine – a chemical used extensively in the early stages of plastics production. New oxygen depolarized cathode technology, successfully implemented by Covestro since 2011, can reduce electricity consumption by up to 30 per cent.
Then there is advanced technology for the production of isocyanates, which are a key component of polyurethane. With partners, Covestro has developed a procedure for the last reaction stage to happen in a gas phase instead of a solvent, which reduces the energy consumption by around 60 percent.
Plastic parts from polycarbonate with high quality coatings can be produced in one step – so the molding and coating can be completed simultaneously. This process, known as DirectCoating/DirectSkinning, has been developed for the automotive industry.
And increasingly, the raw materials for coatings are produced with water-based systems or lower solvent, so they are more environmentally friendly. Covestro has also been using renewable raw materials for a long time in the manufacture of plastics. The latest development is a new isocyanate for polyurethane coatings and adhesives containing 70 percent carbon won from biomass.