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Greener Routes To Polymers

Chemistry: Asahi Kasei, Bayer plants to debut new processes

by Ann M. Thayer
January 26, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 4

A flow diagram of the new Asahi Kasei process.
Not only does Asahi Kasei’s new process remove a reaction step, but it also regenerates the needed alcohol.

Seeking to commercialize more sustainable production routes to plastics, Asahi Kasei Chemicals and Bayer MaterialScience plan to build plants that use new chemistries. The companies, one Japanese and one German, look to use starting materials that are both readily available and either less hazardous or biobased.

Asahi Kasei has improved upon its phosgene-free process for making polycarbonate, which garnered an ACS Heroes of Chemistry award in 2014. The new version uses a catalyst to produce a dialkyl carbonate precursor directly from CO2 and an alcohol, rather than in two steps from CO2 and ethylene oxide.

Asahi Kasei says it wants to advance the “effective and economical use of CO2 as a feedstock in industrial chemistry.” And removing the need for hazardous ethylene oxide as a raw material allows more freedom in siting new plants, the company says. To validate its process for licensing, Asahi Kasei will start up a 1,000-metric-ton-per-year plant in 2017 at its Mizushima Works in Kurashiki, Japan.

Meanwhile, Bayer has developed a cross-linker, pentamethylene diisocyanate (PDI), for making polyurethanes. The company says it can make PDI with 70% of its carbon content from biomass, such as field corn, that doesn’t directly compete with food sources.

“Customers are increasingly demanding products based on renewable raw materials,” Bayer said when announcing the new cross-linker. “Environmental compatibility is becoming a market requirement.” However, unlike Asahi Kasei with polycarbonate, Bayer hasn’t eliminated its need to use phosgene to produce isocyanates.

Besides polyurethanes, Bayer is looking at other applications for PDI, such as coatings and adhesives. The company plans to launch the first PDI-based product in April. Commercial manufacturing, at up to 20,000 metric tons per year, will follow in 2016.



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