RWTH Aachen University: CO2 technology among the top three inventions

Covestro’s CO2 technology continues to write a success story. The European Patent Office (EPA) has nominated the two German chemists Dr. Christoph Gürtler (Covestro AG) and Professor Walter Leitner (Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion and RWTH Aachen University) as finalists in the “Industry” category of the European Inventor Award 2021 for their role in the development of a new technology for using carbon dioxide (CO2 ) announced. The technology makes it possible to use the harmful greenhouse gas CO2 as a valuable raw material for sustainable plastics. Their process uses chemical catalysts to drive reactions between CO2 and a conventional raw material. So-called polymers are created in a more sustainable and economically viable way. The CO2 is firmly integrated.

European inventor awardMarcus Müller-Saran
“This nomination is an important confirmation of our efforts to make chemistry more sustainable. It shows how crucial patents are for the development process of a technology, ”says Christoph Gürtler, who is responsible for the development of new processes and products at Covestro. “It is a great honor to be present at the award ceremony on behalf of the interdisciplinary team from product research, process development, marketing and the many other minds behind the invention.”

Successful collaboration between industry and science

“By switching to greenhouse gas-neutral production, the plastics industry can help combat climate change. To do this, we have to get away from crude oil and use alternative raw materials such as CO2, ”says Dr. Markus Steilemann, CEO of Covestro. “The nomination for the European Inventor Award reinforces our company as a pioneer in this field. My heartfelt congratulations go to the many colleagues, including our partners, who have contributed to the development of the innovative CO2 technology – a real sustainability highlight. ”The two nominees Gürtler and Leitner played a major role in the development and market launch of the platform technology , which has its origin in the cooperation between application-oriented science and research-oriented industry. Their participation in numerous patents relating to the use of CO2 are proof of this: Together they hold over 100 patents on CO2 technology.

Breakthrough in catalysis research brings success

In 2007 Covestro and RWTH Aachen University founded the CAT Catalytic Center. “It was a long-held wish of science to be able to use carbon dioxide as a source of carbon for plastics. Experts have been working on this question for almost half a century, ”explains Walter Leitner.

CO2 forms chemical compounds with great difficulty. The team around Christoph Gürtler and Walter Leitner had to solve this problem. They combined industrial and academic competence. Creativity, perseverance and many attempts with catalysts ultimately led to success. The breakthrough came through the precise control of the reaction between CO2 and the petroleum-based propylene oxide in the presence of a tailor-made catalyst system. “Working closely together, we developed the right catalyst that made us successful,” says Gürtler.

The resulting so-called polyol was brought to market maturity by Covestro under the product name cardyon®. It is already used to manufacture soft foam for mattresses, for adhesives in sports floors, upholstery in shoes and in car interiors. Elastic textile fibers are on the verge of being ready for the market. Research projects have successfully shown that CO2 can also be used for insulating materials made of rigid foam and for surfactants, for example in detergents.

Contribution to resource conservation and circular economy

The use of CO2 makes an important contribution to the circular economy. By partially replacing conventional crude oil as a carbon source with the climate gas CO2, resources are saved. The carbon in turn is retained in the cycle without being released into the atmosphere. At the same time, initial studies suggest that this technology can also be used to produce more recyclable plastics, the components of which can be more easily recycled. An all-round sustainable innovation.

The Inventor Award of the European Patent Office, which was launched in 2006, honors outstanding European inventors and teams and is one of the most prestigious awards of its kind. Three teams have been nominated in the Industry category.