Bayer's 'Dream Production'
2014 will be my fourth year in plastics, and I’m starting to realise that the industry is never quite what it seems. Next week, I’ll start setting things in motion for our January/February issue - and I’ve learned not to plan too far in advance.
One of my first nervous visits for this job, back in 2010, was a trip to Bayer MaterialScience in Leverkusen. It was a press event, predominantly based around the years’ innovations in automotives, cosmetics, healthcare and construction.
However, the itinerary had a slot with the name ‘Dream Production’ - a vague phrase, which came with an even more vague description - something about CO2. With my brief understanding of the sector at the time, I presumed it would be a presentation about a new material aimed at lowering the carbon footprint of end-products. And I was wrong.
The group had assigned just 15 minutes or so to talk about ‘Dream Production’, which was and is the name of a pioneering project to make use of waste CO2, by converting it into polyurethanes. Bayer envisioned a potential application for insulation foams, with some small samples already made.
But truth be told, at the time there were a host of other more exciting and sophisticated technologies on display that week, some already in series production, which caught my eye and formed the basis of my report when I returned to my desk.
The following year, and just a few months later, I received a correspondence from Bayer, informing me that the group was starting up a small pilot plant in Leverkusen to trial ‘Dream Production’ on a realistic scale. The function of the plant was to produce a chemical pre-cursor which could incorporate heavily cleaned waste CO2, and produce quantities of polyurethane foam.
That’s when I started to report on the project with more frequency, looking out for updates from the group and seeking comments from the scientists involved.
Finally, a few weeks ago, I received news from the nova-Institut, a research organisation engaged in studying bio resources, that CO2 is (in their own words) ‘ready to go’ as a feedstock in a host of different industries, most notably to me, plastics and foams. The piece stated that Bayer has now committed to a production-scale commercial plant to come on-line in 2015 - so its ‘Dream Production’ will become real production. The full story can be read in the ‘Foams’ special feature in this issue.
The point is that although I was new to plastics in 2010, plenty of my more experienced peers in Leverkusen that day looked at ‘Dream Production’ with a hint of scepticism, though certainly it was an exciting concept. Now, my question is this: “What else can be made from CO2?”