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Sustainability

Important chemical based on biomass for the first time

Aniline, vital for paints, medicines, and plastics for 150 years, traditionally derived from climate-damaging petroleum, sees a shift. Covestro and partners introduce a method to produce aniline from plant biomass, offering an innovative stride toward a circular economy.

If you want to make a difference to protect the climate and environment, you need ideas, courage and know-how, perseverance and like-minded people. At Covestro, everything has come together in a unique project. Together with partners, the company has developed a pioneering process for producing aniline. This basic chemical has long been very important in industry – as a raw material for plastics, paints and medicines. The disadvantage: So far it has been produced predominantly with fossil raw materials such as petroleum, which releases CO2 and fuels climate change.

But there is also a more sustainable way. For the first time, the oil can be completely replaced by plant biomass. The research consortium led by Covestro has proven this. The new technology, which has been developed over the years, has now reached an important milestone: It is being tested and further developed for production on an industrial scale in a special pilot plant at Covestro’s Leverkusen site in Germany.

The bio-based aniline process.

The process, which has already won several awards, leads to a significantly improved CO2 footprint of the aniline compared to conventional technology. Industrial (“white”) biotechnology also comes into play. A tailor-made microorganism helps convert an industrial sugar obtained from plants into an intermediate product through fermentation. In a further step, this is then converted into aniline, which consists of one hundred percent vegetable carbon. The new technology thus contributes to the circular economy, to which Covestro is fully aligned.

Research into bio-based aniline continues to be supported by the German government. The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture is funding a follow-up project (Bio4PURDemo), which started in March 2022 and will run until 2025. In addition to Covestro, the RWTH Aachen University, the University of Stuttgart and the technology transfer initiative based there are also involved in the project.

Without petroleum: In the new process for aniline production, biomass is used as the raw material.

Covestro uses aniline to produce the substance MDI, which serves primarily as a component for the production of rigid polyurethane foam. The material is used worldwide to insulate buildings and cooling devices and thus makes a significant contribution to saving energy.

Around six million tonnes of aniline are currently produced worldwide, with the volume growing by an average of around three to five percent annually. With a production capacity of more than one million tons per year, Covestro among the leading aniline manufacturers.

Pilot plant in Leverkusen: This is where the new process is being further developed.

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