Saving petroleum and energy by using CO2 as a new raw material

Climate culprit makes itself useful

Carbon dioxide has the reputation of being a waste product that harms our climate, but Covestro wants to transform this greenhouse gas into a useful raw material that can be used to make plastics. It replaces part of the petroleum from which the products are otherwise made. The new process has a further green credential, though, because if less petroleum is used, less energy is also required to process it.
Polyols
Thanks to a new technology from Covestro, CO2 can be used to produce high-value foams.
Carbon dioxide: Tremendous amounts of the gas escape from houses, cars, factories and power plants. In the future, however, CO2 will do more than rise uselessly into the atmosphere, because Covestro intends to use it as a new chemical building block. This will enable a far more eco-friendly production of polyurethane – a high-grade foam that is found in numerous everyday items such as upholstery, sports equipment and automotive components.

The abundantly available CO2 can replace a portion of the increasingly scarce petroleum, which until now has been the chemical industry’s predominant raw material. This is possible because both substances contain the element carbon, which is vitally important for the chemical industry and polyurethane production.

A positive eco-balance

The chemical building block that can now be obtained using CO2 is polyol. It, too, is normally produced from entirely petroleum-based raw materials. However, a special process from Covestro makes it possible to replace 20 percent of the petroleum with CO2. The company is looking to start producing the first CO2-based polyols in 2016.

A comprehensive analysis by RWTH Aachen University in Germany found that the new process also has a positive eco-balance, and is significantly more eco-friendly than the conventional, petroleum-based production method. One key aspect to note is that the process also saves energy – at an upstream stage involving the petrochemical processing of petroleum – because if less petroleum is needed for plastics production and CO2 is used instead, the considerable amount of energy required for these petrochemical processes is also reduced. Indirectly, this additionally results in lower carbon dioxide emissions.