CO₂ as a new raw material – becoming a jack of all trades

Carbon dioxide shows an unfamiliar side: The gas, which is known as being problematic for the climate, can also be reused as a valuable material source in plastic production. Covestro uses CO2 to replace fossil resources like natural gas and coal and thereby wants to drive the switch to an ever more circular economy.

CO2: most know it, barely anyone likes it. Justified? Well, maybe not entirely!

Because the molecule responsible for global warming and climate change holds something valuable: the element carbon, the origin of life and indispensable for practically all products of our everyday lives.

So far, however, the carbon in it has largely come from fossil sources. Their use in turn releases CO2, which intensifies the greenhouse effect and drives up temperatures on Earth.

Everywhere in modern life: countless everyday products are based on carbon.

Covestro shows that there is another way to think about it: The plastics manufacturer uses the greenhouse gas to replace such fossil raw materials. CO2 is used to manufacture two of the company’s central products. One is polycarbonate, a versatile plastic for a wide range of applications – from car bodies to medical devices and roof elements of stadiums.

Producing plastic with CO2

Furthermore, Covestro uses CO2 in the production of isocyanates. These are chemical precursors that are needed to produce polyurethanes. A versatile class of plastics out of which soft or rigid foams are made, for example. They can be found, among other things, in mattresses, car seats and insulation materials for buildings and refrigerators.

Keeping it cool: CO2 can also be used to produce insulation materials for refrigerators.

The road to isocyanates and polycarbonate is long, and carbon monoxide (CO) is needed at one early point in the process. This is exactly where CO2 comes into play at Covestro. This means that CO can be produced in a more environmentally friendly way: up to around 50 percent of fossil raw materials can be saved there – a contribution to climate protection, resource conservation and the circular economy.

Covestro uses the CO2 for this purpose in its own production facilities in Germany, Spain, Thailand and Japan. It is also used in plants of external suppliers of the company in Germany and Thailand.

The CO is chemically bound during the chemical process and is ultimately then also an integral part of the finished plastic. Covestro's long-term goal is the climate-neutral production of carbon monoxide with CO2 in combination with 100 percent green electricity.
Covestro uses CO2 as raw material at its sites worldwide, like here in Map Ta Phut, Thailand.

Covestro has also shown that CO2 can be used to produce another important chemical precursor: polyol, which is needed in addition to isocyanate to produce polyurethanes. In order to produce polyol from petrochemical raw materials without carbon, Covestro has developed a special process together with partners and tested it on the market.

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