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The European Patent Office (EPO) has announced the nomination of the two German chemists, Dr. Christoph Gürtler (Covestro) 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 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, Covestro said in a release.

Their process deploys chemical catalysts to drive reactions between CO2 and 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 technology,” said Christoph Gürtler, who is responsible for the development of new processes and products at 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,” said Covestro CEO Markus Steilemann.

“The nomination for the European Inventor Award is an endorsement of our company as a pioneer in this field,” he added.

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 the research-oriented industry.

Breakthrough in catalysis research yields success

Covestro and RWTH Aachen University founded the CAT Catalytic Centre 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 customized 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.

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-around 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.

With sales of €10.7 billion in 2020, Covestro is one of the leading polymer companies. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative, sustainable solutions for products used in many areas of everyday life.

As of the end of 2020, Covestro produces at 33 sites worldwide and employs around 16,500 people.

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