Covestro chemists nominated for European Inventor Award

CO₂ is more than just a climate gas. As a raw material, it can now be incorporated into a wide range of plastic products and thus, replace fossil raw materials. © Covestro

CO₂ is more than just a climate gas. As a raw material, it can now be incorporated into a wide range of plastic products and thus, replace fossil raw materials. © Covestro

  • Dr Christoph Gürtler and Prof Walter Leitner nominated in the Industry category
  • CO made commercially viable as a raw material
  • Technology forms the basis for a large number of marketable products

Covestro's CO₂ technology continues to write its success story. The European Patent Office (EPO) has announced the nomination of the two German chemists, Dr Christoph Gürtler (Covestro AG) and Prof Walter Leitner (Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion and RWTH Aachen University), as finalists in the "Industry" category of the 2021 European Inventor Award for their role in developing a new technology for using carbon dioxide (CO₂). This technology enables the harmful climate gas CO₂ to be used as a valuable raw material for sustainable plastics. Their process deploys chemical catalysts to drive reactions between CO₂ and a conventional raw material. This process creates so-called polymers in a more sustainable and economically viable way. CO₂ is firmly incorporated in the process.

"This nomination is an important confirmation of our efforts towards making 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 tremendous honour to be part of the award ceremony on behalf of the interdisciplinary team from product research, process development, marketing and the many other minds driving our invention."


Elastic fibres based on CO₂ technology are used in socks. © Covestro

Successful cooperation between industry and science

"The plastics industry can make a significant contribution to combating climate change by switching to greenhouse gas-neutral production. To achieve this, we need to break away from petroleum and use alternative raw materials such as CO₂", says Dr Markus Steilemann, CEO of Covestro. "The nomination for the European Inventor Award is an endorsement of our company as a pioneer in this field. I would like to extend my sincere congratulations to the many colleagues, including those at our partners, who contributed to the development of the innovative CO₂ technology – a genuine sustainability highlight."

The two nominees, Gürtler and Leitner, have played a significant role in the development and market launch of the platform technology, which originated in the collaboration between application-oriented science and research-oriented industry. Their involvement in a large number of patents related to the use of CO₂ is proof of this: together, the two hold more than 100 patents on CO₂ technology.

Breakthrough in catalysis research yields success

Covestro and RWTH Aachen University founded the CAT Catalytic Center in 2007. "The scientific community has long had the desire to be able to use carbon dioxide as a supplier of carbon for plastics. Experts have been working on this issue for nearly half a century," explains Walter Leitner.

CO₂ forms chemical compounds only with great difficulty. This is the problem that Christoph Gürtler and Walter Leitner's team had to solve. The team combined industrial and academic expertise. A great deal of creativity, perseverance and many experiments with catalysts finally culminated in success. The breakthrough was achieved by precisely controlling the reaction between CO₂ and the petroleum-based propylene oxide in the presence of a customised catalyst system. "We collaborated closely to develop the right catalyst that led us to success," says Gürtler.

The resulting so-called polyol was introduced to the market by Covestro under the product name cardyon®. It is already being used to produce soft foam for mattresses, for adhesives in sports floors, padding in shoes and in car interiors. Elastic textile fibres are currently on the threshold of market maturity. Research projects have successfully demonstrated that CO₂ can also be deployed for insulating materials made of rigid foam and for surfactants, for example in detergents.

covestro-hockey.jpg#asset:68050CO₂ technology is now used in a variety of marketable products, including hockey fields. © Covestro

Contributing to resource conservation and the circular economy

The use of CO₂ contributes significantly to the circular economy. Replacing conventional crude oil as a carbon source in part with the climate gas CO₂ preserves resources. The carbon, in turn, remains in the cycle without being released into the atmosphere. Moreover, initial studies have also shown that this technology makes it possible to produce more recyclable plastics whose components can be more easily recycled. An all-round sustainable innovation.

Launched in 2006, the European Patent Office's Inventor Award distinguishes outstanding European inventors and teams and is one of the most prestigious awards of its kind. The award ceremony will take place online for the first time on June 17 and will be broadcast live on the Internet. Three teams are nominated in the Industry category.

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