The German President’s Award is conferred annually to celebrate outstanding achievements in technology and natural science that lead to market-ready products. Team CO2 – consisting of Dr. Christoph Gürtler and Dr. Berit Stange from Covestro, and Professor Walter Leitner from the RWTH Aachen – made it to the final three of this year’s award gala in Berlin.
Low carbon future
Around 6% of global crude oil is used for plastics production, and with finite reserves available, we’re leading the way in replacing as many fossil raw materials as possible with CO2. This also contributes to the circular economy by closing the carbon cycle.
Covestro CEO Dr. Markus Steilemann said: “We are very happy that we made it to the final round. The idea behind CO2 innovation fits in perfectly with the times: conserving resources by replacing as many fossil raw materials as possible and bringing CO2 back into the value chain.
“The award has encouraged us to continue working intensively on developing innovative solutions for greater sustainability in many areas.”
The circular economy
Dr. Gürtler heads up the Catalysis and Technology Incubation Department at the Innovation Management Division of Covestro, where he has been developing innovative technology in the use of CO2 since 2007. He said using CO2 might even make it possible to produce plastics whose components could be recycled more easily: “We also see considerable potential for value creation by using CO2.”
Heading up recycling management activities in the Polyurethanes division at Covestro, Dr. Stange has dedicated herself to the conversion of linear production to a circular economy. She has been driving the market introduction of the new product and established innovative technology for the use of CO2 in the market.
She said: “With the new platform technology, CO2 can be used to develop a precursor for a wide range of high-tech materials.”
This precursor developed by Covestro is called cardyon® and contains up to 20% CO2 instead of crude oil. It is used in the manufacture of mattresses, soft furniture and sports fields. Cardyon®-based thermoplastic polyurethane can also be used for shoes and sportswear.
Professor Leitner is the Academic Director of the CAT Catalytic Center in Aachen (jointly operated by Covestro and RWTH Aachen) and the winner of numerous honors, including the Sustainable Chemistry Award of the European Association of Molecular Sciences. He has focused much of his research on making chemical processes more sustainable.
The use of CO2 in manufacturing plastic precursors came about following a research breakthrough at the CAT Catalytic Center. CO2 has great difficulty forming chemical bonds, and experts have been searching for a catalyst for decades. The team overcame this challenge by developing a custom-made catalyst that controls the chemical reaction and allows for the efficient use of CO2.
Dr Steilemann added: “Together with partners from the business and scientific community, we will continue to forge ahead with the development of alternative resources such as CO2. As a chemicals and research location, Germany can make a name for itself in this field.”