Bayer MaterialScience says its research into carbon dioxide as a new raw material for making plastics is delivering further successes, by both further reducing the amount of petroleum required for production and expanding the range of plastics that can be produced.
As part of its ‘Dream Polymer’ research project, the company has succeeded in significantly further reducing the need for petroleum at precursor level through the incorporation of CO2 in laboratory tests, as well as extending the range of plastics that CO2 can be used to produce.
The current technology, which uses the greenhouse gas to produce a key component for high-quality foam (polyurethane) is already moving toward commercial use. The proportion of petroleum in this chemical is 80 percent.
"We have now succeeded in reducing the petroleum content for making other plastics to just 60 percent," commented Project Manager, Dr. Christoph Gürtler.
In the new process, carbon dioxide is used twice. First, the greenhouse gas is incorporated directly into a new kind of precursor (polyoxymethylene polycarbonate polyol), replacing 20 percent of the petroleum. Second, it is also used indirectly, producing a chemical that is also incorporated into the precursor for a further 20 percent saving in petroleum. "As a result, the proportion of alternative raw materials is already 40 percent," explained Gürtler.
In addition to this, the number of plastics that can be produced using carbon dioxide is increasing. "It is now also possible to manufacture thermoplastic polyurethanes, films and casting elastomers in this way," said Gürtler. Such plastics are used in all kinds of applications, including automotive interiors, cable sheathing and sporting goods such as ski boots.
The researchers says they have already proved in laboratory tests that the manufacturing process works in principle. "Initial application tests have been positive," confirmed Gürtler, but he added that there is some way to go before the process is commercially viable.
Dream Polymers is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. External institutions in Germany such as the CAT Catalytic Center, the Leibniz Institute for Catalysis and the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology are also involved.