A second round of funding for the CAT Catalytic Centre in Aachen, Germany, will enable the facility to further its work into the to use carbon dioxide as an alternative building block for plastics. It will also help the facility develop ways to use the spare electricity from wind turbines to produce hydrogen using electrolysis.
The projects, run in conjunction with Bayer MaterialScience, have attracted funding of €20m and have proved a “magnet for top researchers”, according to Professor Walter Leitner, chair of technical chemistry and petrochemistry at RWTH and scientific director of the CAT Catalytic Centre.
Dr Christoph Gürtler, who heads the Bayer MaterialScience catalysis programme and also serves as director of the Aachen facility, added: “Without the CAT Catalytic Centre we most certainly would not have progressed so quickly in developing these projects.”
One of the objectives is to use CO2 as a source of carbon for manufacturing polyols, reducing consumption of petroleum-based propylene oxide, the conventional raw material. The CO2-based polyols will initially serve as a building block for flexible polyurethane foam. However, the range of applications will soon be expanded to include coatings and thermoplastic polyurethanes, Gürtler explained.
The CO2RRECT project (CO2-Reaction using Regenerative Energies and Catalytic Technologies) is also making good progress. One goal of this research is to use the excess electricity from wind turbines to produce hydrogen by way of electrolysis. The hydrogen will then be combined with waste CO2 from power plants to obtain chemical intermediates, such as carbon monoxide and formic acid, which can be used in turn to manufacture not only polyurethanes but also the high-performance polycarbonates.
“To react the CO2, Bayer has developed a catalyst that is a significant improvement over the state of the art,” said Gürtler. Furthermore, a chemical reactor for CO2-reforming, also developed by Bayer, promises significant cost advantages over conventional plants. This reformer is currently under construction as a demonstration facility at the INVITE research centre, run jointly in Leverkusen by Bayer Technology Services and Dortmund Technical University.
The new reformer is scheduled to go into operation there in spring 2013.
“Our partners have also developed a water electrolyser that can be started up and shut down in seconds,” explained Gürtler. As a result, the current fluctuations that are unavoidable when using regeneratively produced electricity can be reliably managed, he added.
A demonstration system will be built in the near future.