Forget water into wine, try recycling CO2 as car seats

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Forget water into wine, try recycling CO2 as car seats


Patrick Thomas, chairman of the board at Bayer Material Science, talks with students last week who participated in the Bayer Young Environmental Envoy Program in Leverkusen, Germany. Provided by the company

LEVERKUSEN, Germany - Despite the global rush to curb greenhouse gas emissions, a German chemical company is developing cutting-edge technologies to recycle carbon dioxide as a raw source of carbon for household and industrial products like mattresses and plastics.

“When you stop thinking of carbon dioxide as a problem, as merely waste or a nonrenewable fuel, and start thinking of it as a valuable feedstock, then you find that suddenly your whole world changes,” Patrick Thomas, chairman of the board at Bayer Material Science (BMS), said at the company’s headquarters in Leverkusen last week.

“The global demand for energy is going to double in 2060,” he said. “Developing renewable energy sources is fundamentally important for our society”.

BMS, a giant German chemical company, is chasing a series of ambitious environmentally friendly projects including one aimed at recycling carbon dioxide.

“Most plastic items are made of polycarbonate, which has a chain of carbon dioxide,” said Thomas. “So we started to think, ‘Why don’t we take the carbon dioxide, and connect it together to make a product?’?”

“We tried to find a way to catalyze it, so that it can be used as a rigid-form insulator, such as in car seats or office furniture,” he said. “We know it’s not a complete solution for the problem of growing CO2 emissions, but it could be part of the solution.”

BMS has been running a pilot project in Leverkusen since last year and expects to commercialize polyurethane made from recycled CO2 in 2015. Thomas said carbon dioxide is extracted from the chimney of local power stations, cleaned, then transferred to the pilot plant and processed.

“We managed to substitute about 30 percent of [the original] raw materials with carbon dioxide, instead of using oil-based feedstock,” he told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “Lots of companies are interested in buying the carbon dioxide-based products, because for a car company, being able to make 30 percent of its car seats with carbon dioxide sends a quite strong, positive, environmental message [to customers].”

Last year, BMS invested 237 million euros ($300 million) on R&D for a range of products including those related to green energy. Its total sales for the year amounted to 10.8 billion euros.

Another of its projects, dubbed the “Eco Commercial Building Program” aims to construct a series of energy-saving and eco-friendly commercial buildings. Buildings account for over 40 percent of global energy use and one-third of CO2 emissions worldwide, according to statistics by the United Nations Environment Programme.

The buildings in the project slash energy use in half through thermal energy storage, better insulation and other measures, Thomas said.

“Considering the savings it offers within the space of several years, constructing this kind of building in a sensible way makes good business sense”, he said, adding that the company built its first eco-commercial building in New Delhi along similar lines.

He said it was worth splashing out on the new technology because of the dividends that can be reaped in terms of corporate social and environmental responsibility.

“But engaging in projects like this for this reason alone isn’t enough for me. We’re trying to work on projects that make sense economically and commercially in order to meet market demand,” he added.

By Kim Hee-jin []
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