Nominee 2019

CO2

CO2 – A Raw Material for Sustainable Plastics

Dr. rer. nat. Christoph Gürtler (Spokesperson)
Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Walter Leitner**/***
Dr. rer. nat. Berit Stange
Covestro Deutschland AG, Leverkusen
**RWTH Aachen University
***Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion (MPI CEC), Mülheim an der Ruhr

(f.l.t.r.) Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Walter Leitner, Dr. rer. nat. Christoph Gürtler, Dr. rer. nat. Berit Stange

Power plants, modes of transport and industrial factories that burn or process fossil fuels emit vast amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2). The chemical industry in and of itself needs carbon, an element of greenhouse gas, as a raw material to manufacture plastics. Is it possible to close the loop by using part of the emitted carbon dioxide for industrial production processes?

CO2-Polyol

Dr. rer. nat. Christoph Gürtler, Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Walter Leitner and Dr. rer. nat. Berit Stange have proven that it is possible to join the loop - and that the use of the greenhouse gas CO2 has marketable options. The nominees have developed a chemical process based on a custom catalyst which utilizes inert carbon dioxide to produce polyols - a component of plastics used in a variety of different applications.

Christoph Gürtler heads the New Processes and Products Division at Covestro Deutschland AG in Leverkusen, Walter Leitner is chair of “Technical Chemistry and Petrochemistry” at RWTH Aachen University and is also Director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion in Mülheim an der Ruhr. Berit Stange is head of Circular Economy Polyurethanes at Covestro Deutschland AG.

Carbon is an indispensible part of products in the chemical industry. In complex chemical compounds, the element is one of the main building blocks for numerous plastics. Usually, it has been extracted from petroleum, natural gas or coal. If the carbon bound in carbon dioxide molecules were used instead, fewer natural fossil resources could be used and thus the CO2 footprint of the chemical industry could be reduced. It would be two steps toward the ultimate aim of "sustainable chemistry".

In the past, there were two obstacles to achieving this goal: first, carbon dioxide molecules are chemically inert: it requires great effort to break them down or form them to new compounds with other substances. Second, the energy required for this process would undermine both its economical as well as ecological benefits.

The nominated team was able to overcome both obstacles. To do so, the scientists employed a catalyst which is also used in conventional plastic manufacturing and which they refined for the CO2 reaction. The catalyst reduces the activation energy of the CO2 reaction and thereby causes the molecules to bond with epoxides as the reacting agent, using comparably little energy, to form stable polyols. These chemical compounds can in turn be processed into polyurethanes, for example - a class of plastics used in numerous products. The research group from science and industry made sure that a clearly defined share of molecules is introduced into the polyol. They adapted the process in such a way that it can be incorporated into existing industrial processes. The individual steps are protected by numerous patents.

Because of the many different uses for polyurethane, the innovation makes the "waste product" carbon dioxide a precious commodity in the production of a wide range of products. These include, for example, flexible foam for mattresses and upholstered furniture as well as binding agents and adhesives. The use of rigid foams like those used in insulation is currently a subject of research. A use in textiles is already being implemented. The best part is that this process lowers the need for fossil fuels in polyol production as well as the energy demand along the value chain. The emission of climate-damaging gas is correspondingly lower at this point. The quality of products manufactured using CO2 is at least as good, and in some cases even better than comparable products made of entirely fossil raw materials. The products can also be produced at market competitive costs - making the use of carbon dioxide not only ecologically, but also economically attractive.

To illustrate the benefits of the carbon cycle created also during production on an industrial scale, Covestro has been running a demo plant to produce polyols with a carbon dioxide content of up to 20 percent. The plant which the company invested € 15m in to build is able to produce up to 5,000 tons of CO2-based polyols every year which are sold under the brand name cardyon®. Customers include the Belgian company Recticel that uses the product to manufacture polyurethane foams for mattresses as well as the German company Polytan that uses the material as a binding agent in flooring for sports fields. In addition, a recent cooperation with a textile company has resulted in a first use in textiles. In this case, precursors are produced with CO2 for elastic textile fibers. The production of surfactants like those used in detergents is also being tested with the process.

The market potential of the innovation and corresponding products is immense - and the reduction of CO2 emissions along the polyol value chain in the chemical industry is considerable: global demand for polyol components for products made of polyurethane amounts to around 4 m tons per year. If only 10% of this amount were produced with the help of carbon dioxide derived from exhaust emissions and waste gas, up to 150,000 tons of fossil raw materials could be saved annually - and at the same time, an equivalent amount of CO2 emissions. The use of carbon dioxide according to a similar principle is also conceivable to produce other chemical materials which could multiply the ecological effect. The nominees are already working to further refine the processing technology. Their goal is to use this platform technology for numerous applications - and thus lead the way to an even more sustainable resource, environmental and climate-friendly chemical sector. 

The right to nominate outstanding achievements for the Deutscher Zukunftspreis is incumbent on leading German institutions in science and industry as well as foundations.

The project " CO2 – a raw material for sustainable plastics" was submitted by acatech - the National Academy of Science and Engineering, the German Rectors' Conference HRK and the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science.

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will award the Deutscher Zukunftspreis to one of the three nominated teams on November 27, 2019.

More Details

Resume

Dr. rer. nat. Christoph Gürtler

3.10.1967
Born in Casablanca, Morocco
1987 - 1992
Student of Chemistry, University of Bonn and 
Technical University of Berlin, Germany
1993
Graduation in Chemistry, University of Bonn
1993 - 1996
PhD student of Organic Chemistry, 
Technical University of Berlin
1996 - 1997
Postdoctoral researcher, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Chemistry, Cambridge/USA
1997 - 1999
Head of Laboratory and Project Manager, 
Central Research Department, Bayer AG
1999 - 2005
Head of Laboratory and Project Leader, Coating Raw Materials Department: Production of new, environmentally compatible polyurethane systems for coatings, elastomers and catalysts for polyurethane systems, 
Bayer MaterialScience AG, Leverkusen
2006 - 2007
Strategic consultant to the Executive Board for Innovation and Marketing, Bayer MaterialScience AG
2007 - 2015
Head of Department for Catalysis and Sustainable Chemistry in Polyurethanes Process Research: Development of polymers, including those based on CO2 as a raw material, Bayer MaterialScience AG
2015
Restructuring of the Chemical Catalysis and Process Research in the Polyurethane Innovation Division, Covestro Deutschland AG, Leverkusen
Since 2018
Head of Catalysis and Technology Incubation: Product & Process development, incl. up-scaling and market launch, Covestro Deutschland AG

ther activities and honorary posts

1999 - 2005
Supervisor of cooperations with Russian universities and research institutions (Russian Academy of Science)
2007
Founder of the CAT Catalytic Center, a Research Centre for new Catalytic Chemical Processes, jointly with RWTH Aachen University
2007 - 2015
Cooperation with funding organisations (BMBF, EU) and committee work (Dechema, Cefic)
Since 2012
Invited Lecturer, Lecture Series "Sustainable Industrial Chemistry", RWTH Aachen University
Since 2017
Initiator and leader of Carbon4PUR (project on the use of CO2/CO, funded under Horizon 2020)
Since 2017
Member of the Board of the VAA (Chemistry Managers) e.V.
Since 2018
Member of the Advisory Board of the Nova Institute for CO2 Use Issues
Since 2018
Member of the Advisory Board of the Global CO2 Initiative
2019
Co-Chairman of the International Conference for CO2 Utilization, Aachen

Patents, Publications and Presentations

 
Author / co-author of more than 142 patents and patent applications, including 48 on CO2 use
2007
Invited Lecture, Gordon Research Conference for Coatings, New London
2014
Invited Lecture, GdCH Interdisciplinary Symposium, Darmstadt
2015
Invited Lecture, ACS Industrial Chemistry Symposium, Denver
2015
Invited Lecture, Macromolecular Colloquium, Freiburg
2016
Invited Lecture, ICCDU, Sheffield
2016
Invited Lecture, Gordon Research Conference for Green Chemistry, Snowflake
2018
Invited Lecture, ProcessNET, Aachen
2018
Invited Lecture, ICCDU, Rio de Janeiro
2018
Invited Lecture, National Science Foundation, 
Washington D.C.
2018
Invited Lecture, European Petrochemical Association, Vienna
 
Involved in numerous EU studies and papers, including the AcaTech CO2 usage study

Honours and Awards

2014
Laureate of the Otto-Bayer-Medaille, Bayer AG

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Walter Leitner

1.2.1963
Born in Pfarrkirchen, Germany
1982 - 1987
Student of Chemistry, University of Regensburg (Dipl.-Chem. Univ.)
1987 - 1989
PhD (Dr. rer. nat.) with Prof. H. Brunner, Institute for Inorganic Chemistry, University of Regensburg
1990
Postdoctoral student with Prof. J. M. Brown, Dyson Perrins Laboratory for Organic Chemistry, University of Oxford, UK
1991 - 1992
Liebig Fellow of the Fonds der Chemischen Industrie, Institute for Inorganic Chemistry, University of Regensburg
1992 - 1995
Research associate at the Max-Planck-Working Group „CO2-Chemistry“ (Director: Prof. E. Dinjus), Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena
1995
Habilitation (Dr. rer. nat. habil.) in Inorganic Chemistry and appointment as Lecturer (Privatdozent), Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena
1995 - 1998
Group leader at the Department of Organic Synthesis (Director: Prof. M. T. Reetz), Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, Mülheim/Ruhr
1998 - 2002
Head of the Technical Laboratories, Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, Mülheim/Ruhr
Since 2002
Chair of Technical Chemistry and Petrochemistry, Institute for Technical and Macromolecular Chemistry, RWTH Aachen University
2002 - 2017
External Scientific Member of the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, Mülheim/Ruhr
Since 2007
Academic Director of CAT, the joint Catalytic Center of RWTH Aachen University and Covestro
Since 2017
Director for Molecular Catalysis, Max-Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion (MPI CEC), Mülheim/Ruhr

Other activities and honorary posts

Since 2014
Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Renewable Energy Program of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology KIT
Since 2015
Member of the Scientific Council of the German Scientific Society of Oil, Gas and Coal, DGMK
Since 2016
Chairman of the Coordination Group of the Kopernikus Project P2X: Exploration, Validation and Implementation of „Power-to-X“ Concepts
Since 2018
Member of the Editorial Board of the scientific journal on applied chemistry “Angewandte Chemie”
Since 2018
Member of the Board of the German Society for Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, DECHEMA
Since 2019
Co-Speaker of the Cluster of Excellence “The Fuel Science Center”, RWTH Aachen University/MPI CEC
2019
Chairman of the 14th EuropaCat international conference
2019
Chairman of the International Conference on Carbon Dioxide Utilization ICCDU XVII
2019/2020
Chairman of the Gordon Conference on “Green Chemistry

Publications, Presentations and Patents

 
Over 300 contributions to peer-reviewed international journals and edited monographs, with a total number of >13 000 citations and h-index of 61 (web of science; June 2019)
Co-Editor of the books Chemical Synthesis Using Supercritical Fluids (Wiley/VCH1999), Multiphase Homogeneous Catalysis (Wiley/VCH 2005) and Handbook of Green Chemistry, Vol 4-6: Green Solvents (Wiley/VCH, 2010)

More than 60 patents and patent applications
More than 100 invited lectures at international conferences and research institutions

Honours and Awards

1997
Gerhard-Hess Award of the German Science Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG))
1998
Bennigsen Funding Award of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW)
1998
Carl-Zerbe Award of the Deutsche Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Erdöl, Erdgas und Kohle (DMGK)
2000
2nd International Messer Innovation Award
2001
Otto-Roelen-Medal of DECHEMA
2003
Griess Lectureship of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)
2005
Guest Professorship at the Universitè de Bourgogne, Dijon, France
2008
CATSA Eminent Visitor Award of the South African Catalysis Society
2009
Wöhler Award of the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (GDCh)
2010
Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC)
2011
Honorary Member of the Chemical Society of Ethiopia
2013
Visiting Lecturer for Promotion of Chemistry, National Science Foundation, Taiwan
2014
European Sustainable Chemistry Award of the European Science Association of Chemical and Molecular Sciences (EuCheMS), jointly with Prof. Jürgen Klankermayer (RWTH Aachen University)
2015
Nankai University Lectureship in Organic Chemistry, Nankai University, China
2015
Molecular Science Forum Lecture of Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Chemical Society
2018
Casey Lecture of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA
2018
Evonik Lecture at the Biennial Meeting of the Chinese Chemical Society, Hangzhou, China

Dr. rer. nat. Berit Stange

19.05.1976
Born in Schwäbisch-Hall, Germany
1996 - 2002
Student of Chemistry, Institute of Physical, Nuclear and Macromolecular Chemistry, Philipps-University Marburg
2002 - 2005
PhD student, Institute of Physical, Nuclear and Macromolecular Chemistry, Philipps-University Marburg
2005 - 2009
Laboratory Manager, Business Unit Polycarbonates, 
Bayer MaterialScience AG, Leverkusen, Germany
2009 - 2012
Technical Market Segment Developer for „Electricity and Illumination”, Business Unit Polycarbonates, 
Bayer MaterialScience AG,
2012 - 2014
Key Account Manager, Business Unit Polycarbonates, Bayer MaterialScience AG
2014 - 2015
Assistant to the Head of Business Unit Polyurethanes, Bayer MaterialScience AG
2015 - 2016
Assistant to the Board Member for Innovation and Head of Business Unit Polyurethanes, Covestro AG, Leverkusen, Germany
2016 - 2018
Project Manager cardyon®, Business Unit Polyurethanes, Covestro Deutschland AG
Since 2018
Head of “Circular Economy Polyurethanes”, Business Unit Polyurethanes, Covestro Deutschland AG

Other activities and honorary posts

2002 - 2005
Researcher, Institute of Physical, Nuclear and Macromolecular Chemistry, Philipps-University Marburg
2005 - 2009
Researcher and developer of new flame retardant systems for different polycarbonate applications, 
Bayer MaterialScience AG
2009 - 2012
Market Segment strategist for Europe, Bayer MaterialScience AG
2012 - 2014
Development and Implementation of the Key Account Strategy for Medical Accounts, Bayer MaterialScience AG
2017 - 2018
Responsible for global market launch of the new CO2 technology and the new product cardyon®, 
Covestro Deutschland AG

Publications and Patents

 
Author and co-author of more than 20 patents and patent applications

Contact

Press

Dr. Grzegorz Darlinski
Alliance Management
Covestro Deutschland AG
51365 Leverkusen
Phone: +49 (0) 214 / 60 09 75 68
Mobil: +49 (0) 174 / 16 25 184
E-Mail: grzegorz.darlinski@covestro.com

Spokesperson

Dr. Christoph Gürtler
Covestro Deutschland AG
51365 Leverkusen
Phone: +49 (0) 214 / 60 09 21 77
E-Mail: christoph.guertler@covestro.com

A description provided by the institutes and companies regarding their nominated projects

Modern society releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) that accumulate in the atmosphere, but the greenhouse gas also contains something useful: carbon, a central building block for products in the chemical industry. Thanks to a new process, CO2 can now be used as a raw material for high-quality materials and can partially replace crude oil in their production. This is a contribution to the conservation of resources and the promotion of circularity, thanks to the expertise, perseverance and ingenuity of experts at RWTH Aachen University, the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion and the materials manufacturer Covestro.

Summary
Industrially usable CO2-based polyols are the result of application-oriented fundamental research within the framework of the CAT Catalytic Center, a scientific facility jointly operated by Covestro and RWTH Aachen University along with research and development work at Covestro. Polyols are used to make polyurethanes that have applications in mattresses, insulation materials, and many other everyday products. The use of CO2 as a raw material improves the overall environmental balance of the polyols’ production process.

The team
Nominated for the German Future Prize are Prof. Dr. Walter Leitner, Chair of Technical Chemistry and Petrochemistry at RWTH Aachen University and Director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion in Mülheim an der Ruhr; Dr. Christoph Gürtler, Head of New Processes and Products at Covestro; and Dr. Berit Stange, Head of the Polyurethanes Circular Economy Division, also at Covestro.

The idea
It seems an obvious concept: if mankind produces vast amounts of CO2, which acts as a greenhouse gas harmful to the climate, why not try to use it, at least in part, as a raw material for the chemical industry? This would reduce its dependence on fossil resources such as crude oil and be a step towards closed carbon cycles in chemical production.

The challenge
The idea was first formulated in the late 1960s, but there was a considerable obstacle to its implementation: the high amount of energy required to activate inert CO2, which undermined its economic and ecological benefits.

The solution
Despite the challenges, the nominees for the German Future Prize have succeeded in developing a new catalytic process by which CO2 is incorporated in well-controlled quantities into polymer materials, specifically polyurethanes that serve a wide range of applications.

The new product can be integrated into existing production processes in the industrial value chain. It is an innovation that moved from the laboratory to industrial use in a short space of time. Since 2016, Covestro has been using this novel process to produce a central component of polyurethanes on an industrial scale in a newly built plant at its Dormagen site in Germany. At the same time, the process is being evaluated for an even larger industrial production.

The product
CO2 is used to manufacture polyols marketed under the cardyon® brand name. Up to 20 percent of the conventional raw material propylene oxide, which is obtained from crude oil, can be replaced. The first final products are already available. For example, Recticel is a pioneer company in offering foams for mattresses containing cardyon® and Polytan uses binders with CO2-based polyols in the elastic layer of sports floor systems.

The benefits
Using CO2 as a recyclable material conserves fossil carbon sources. At the same time, the technology reduces the total energy requirement across the polyols' value chain, which not only reduces CO2 emissions from the chemical industry at this point, but also facilitates marketable solutions. The CO2 is permanently bound in the material and can also positively contribute to the material properties in many applications. The new process not only makes production more environmentally friendly, but also has economic attractions.

The perspective
The current applications illustrate the potential of innovation in a market with an annual product volume of several million tons. As a platform technology designed, the new process is also able to provide feedstocks for elastic textile fibers containing CO2, which are currently still in the testing stage. As further examples, surface-active substances such as those used in detergents can also be produced with CO2 as a raw material.

In addition, the project has an impact beyond the actual application. Motivated by the success story of CO2-based polyols, research at RWTH Aachen University, the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion, and Covestro AG also aims to utilize CO2 in other future production processes which previously used only fossil raw materials. The collaboration exemplifies how today's complex challenges such as climate change, which requires turning away from fossil raw materials at an increasing rate, can be tackled successfully through close cooperation between science and industry. Projects such as this nominated innovation contribute to safeguarding Germany as a business location while at the same time taking into account industry’s ecological and social responsibility.

Covestro Deutschland AG
Covestro is one of the world's leading manufacturers of high-quality chemical-based materials. The company's products and applied solutions form the basis for important industries and are found in many areas of modern life. The focus is placed on innovative, sustainable solutions for the major challenges of our time – such as climate change, scarcity of resources, increasing mobility and urbanization. Covestro employs around 16,800 people worldwide and generated sales of 14.6 billion euros in 2018.

RWTH Aachen University
With its 260 institutes in nine faculties, RWTH Aachen University, as a "University of Excellence”, is one of Europe's leading scientific institutions. In the winter semester of 2018/2019, more than 45,000 students were enrolled, almost a quarter of them international students from more than 125 countries. Researchers with expertise in basic research and highly specialized applications work together in interdisciplinary profile areas to develop sustainable solutions and turn ideas into innovations. The financial volume of the RWTH amounts to almost one billion euros, of which more than 385 million euros are third-party funds.

MPI for Chemical Energy Conversion
Research at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion (MPI CEC) in Mülheim an der Ruhr aims to understand the basic chemical processes that play a key role in the conversion of electrical energy into chemical compounds for energy storage and chemical value creation, e.g. based on CO2. Aiming to turn global energy systems around and replace finite fossil fuels with renewable resources, it is essential to link energy generation and chemical production in a sustainable, environmentally friendly and cost-effective way. To this end, the 280 employees at the MPI CEC, including young scientists from over 30 nations, are creating the scientific basis for technology options that expand the political and social scope for action.

The right to nominate outstanding achievements for the Deutscher Zukunftspreis is incumbent on leading German institutions in science and industry as well as foundations.

The project " CO2 – a raw material for sustainable plastics" was submitted by acatech - the National Academy of Science and Engineering, the German Rectors' Conference HRK and the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science.

Nominee 2019 · TEAM 2