Covestro achieves major breakthrough in biobased aniline

Covestro achieves major breakthrough in biobased aniline

11:09 AM, 30th May 2017
Covestro achieves major breakthrough in biobased aniline
Production of bio-based aniline: The process works on a small scale. Project manager Dr Gernot Jager (center) is working with his team – Dr Swantje Behnken (left) and Dr Wolf Kloeckner (right) to test it in larger-scale facilities.

LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY: Covestro AG collaborating with partners has achieved a research breakthrough for the use of plant-based raw materials in plastics production. Aniline, an important basic chemical, can now be derived from biomass.

So far, only fossil raw materials had been used for the production of aniline, which plays an important role in the chemical industry and is used as starting material for numerous products. 

Following its success in the lab, Covestro plans to further develop the new process together with partners from industry and research. The first step is to upscale the process in a pilot plant with the ultimate goal of enabling the production of bio-based aniline on an industrial scale. That would be an unprecedented achievement in the chemical industry.

Covestro is working with the University of Stuttgart, the CAT Catalytic Center at RWTH Aachen University and Bayer AG to further develop the process.

Unprecedented achievement 

About five million metric tonnes of aniline are produced annually worldwide; the total volume has been increasing by an average of about five percent every year. With a production capacity of about one million metric tonnes, Covestro is among the leading producers. The company requires aniline as a precursor for rigid polyurethane foam, a highly efficient insulating material used in buildings and refrigeration systems. 

100 percent of carbon from biomass

The industry currently derives aniline from benzene, a petroleum-based raw material. But industrial sugar, which is already derived on large scale from, for example, feed corn, straw and wood, can be used instead. The newly developed process uses a microorganism as a catalyst to first convert the industrial sugar into an aniline precursor. The aniline is then derived by means of chemical catalysis in a second step.

Covestro is already using renewable raw materials in a number of different products. A hardener for coatings that the company developed is one example: up to 70 percent of its carbon content is derived from plants. And CO2 is also increasingly being used an alternative raw material. Used in place of petroleum, CO2 accounts for up to 20 percent of the raw materials used in a precursor for flexible polyurethane foam that Covestro began producing in 2016. The company is also researching and developing many more products based on CO2. 

“Being able to derive aniline from biomass is another key step towards making the chemical and plastics industries less dependent on fossil raw materials and market fluctuations. With this, we are pursuing our vision of making the world a brighter place,” said Dr Markus Steilemann, chief commercial officer, Covestro.

“The process currently under development uses renewable raw materials and produces aniline with a much better CO2 footprint than that manufactured with standard technology. This also enables our customers to markedly improve the CO2 footprint of their aniline-based products,” added Dr Gernot Jager, project manager, Covestro.

The long-term research project will receive funding for a period of two and a half years through the Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe eV (FNR), a project agency of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

© Worldofchemicals News 

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