Developing a circular future
To become fully circular, it needs developments and advances in various areas. We need the ability to recycle any given material, for example. Raw materials must be based on renewable feedstock so as not to deplete the planet’s resources. And existing energy- and resource-intensive plants must be further optimized.
The figures are shocking: Between 1950 and 2015, around 4.9 billion metric tons of plastic waste ended up in landfills and in the environment. And this problem will only get worse unless the world changes its approach radically. The solutions are obvious: We must make every effort to prevent waste by reusing it repeatedly over a long period. Unavoidable waste should not be carelessly discarded, but disposed of sensibly – and recycled wherever possible.
What sounds simple is, in fact, anything but: Only a tiny proportion of plastic waste can be easily recycled in the usual way – by mechanical means, which involves crushing, melting down and reforming the material. What’s more, some plastics can no longer be used for their original purpose following mechanical recycling. And mechanical recycling may not even be possible, for instance in the case of mixed plastic waste.
An alternative is available in these instances: reducing old materials to their chemical components, from which new raw materials can be obtained. Covestro intends to pursue both options in a bid to give plastics more than one life: “We are researching new technologies for the chemical recycling of our materials in several projects, and are expanding established mechanical recycling in various markets,” says Covestro expert Dr. Catherine Lövenich.
The chemical approach is being explored by the PUReSmart European research project, among others. This involves six countries, three universities and six companies, including Covestro, and focuses on the recycling of flexible polyurethane foam, commonly used in mattresses and the like. The ambitious target: to recycle 90 percent of this material.
Ideally, cars should no longer emit any CO2 whatsoever. On the contrary: They should be able to incorporate some instead – as an element of numerous automotive components. This is possible thanks to an innovative Covestro technology. We are now using CO2 to manufacture a key chemical in the production of foams, from which the Swiss company FoamPartner has recently started making components for automotive interiors, including arm rests and seat covers.
After mattresses and sports floors, the car is the latest field to be tapped for our CO2-based materials. Textiles and building insulation will follow. “With CO2 as a new raw material, we can save on crude oil in production, which benefits the climate,” says Covestro researcher Dr. Christoph Gürtler. “We are also circulating carbon – a significant contribution to the circular economy.”
Covestro is also committed to the use of plants as another environmentally friendly source of carbon and a substitute for crude oil. Films and coating components produced in this way are already on the market. At the same time, the company has joined forces with partners to research further applications and sources for biomass, including municipal waste and wood waste. This trio of alternative raw materials is rounded out by end-of-life product waste. Because plastics are far too valuable to be simply discarded.
What do you think?
Correct! The global share of bio-based plastics set to increase 3% annually by 2024.
Unfortunately not correct. The global share of bio-based plastics set to increase 3% annually by 2024.
Up to 35 %
The rigid foam component MDI ensures that refrigerators and buildings worldwide are insulated in an energy-efficient manner. Accordingly, worldwide demand for MDI is growing steadily – and with it the requirements for energy-efficient and environmentally friendly production.
In 2020, Covestro reached an important milestone in this regard: The first industrial pilot plant for the production of MDI based on the novel AdiP technology opened in Brunsbüttel, Germany. AdiP stands for adiabatic-isothermal phosgenation and describes the technology’s main advantage: It uses process heat generated during the reaction, eliminating the need for external energy input.
As a result, the production process significantly reduces energy consumption and CO2-emissions in MDI production. Thanks to the AdiP technology, up to 40 percent steam and 25 percent electricity can be saved per metric ton of MDI produced. CO2 emissions are thus reduced by up to 35 percent. At the same time, the production output of the plant increases by up to 50 percent. Thus, production plants can be built smaller to achieve the same output in future.
Teamwork made the dream work: “Innovations, especially in the field of process technology, are an important pillar in Covestro’s strategy to become fully circular. We worked intensively across sites on the development of AdiP,” says Dr. Klaus Schäfer, CTO at Covestro. “And I am convinced that together we will also successfully complete the pilot phase to enable the technology to be used in our global production network.”