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Covestro makes “unprecedented achievement” with the chemical used to manufacture dyes, drugs and plastics.

Posted on Jun 12, 2017 8:42:00 PM

Production of bio-based aniline. (Photo courtesy of Covestro).Have you ever wondered what turns your jeans blue; dyes your carpet red and even insulates your fridge? The answer is aniline. Aniline is an organic chemical compound used to manufacture dyes, drugs and plastics. It plays an essential role in the chemical industry and is a starting materials for numerous products. Now, five million tons of aniline are produced annually worldwide and has been increasing by five percent every year. However, Covestro has found a bio-based solution to create aniline which can be derived from biomass. The supplier of high-tech materials has made an important breakthrough which uses plant-based raw materials after collaborating with partners on the development of a completely new process, initially in the laboratory. Until now, only fossil raw materials had been used for the production of aniline.

"The newly developed process uses a microorganism as a catalyst to first convert the industrial sugar into an aniline precursor."

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 especially as the materials producer has a production capacity of about one million metric tons.

“The market is showing great interest in ecologically beneficial products based on renewable raw materials,” said Covestro Chief Commercial Officer Dr. Markus Steilemann. “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.” 

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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. “This means one hundred percent of the carbon in the aniline comes from renewable raw materials,” explained Jäger.

“The process currently under development uses renewable raw materials and produces aniline with a much better CO2 footprint than that manufactured with standard technology,” said Covestro project manager Dr. Gernot Jäger. “This also enables our customers to markedly improve the CO2 footprint of their aniline-based products.” And the reactions would take place under milder conditions. The ecological aspects of the process are also being thoroughly evaluated by external institutes.

Covestro is working with the University of Stuttgart, the CAT Catalytic Center at RWTH Aachen University, and Bayer AG to further develop the process. The long-term research project will receive funding for a period of two and a half years through the FNR (Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe e.V.), a project agency of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture

The chemical company 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. 

For more information about Covestro:

To read more about bio-based chemical breakthroughs:

"A new milestone" has been reached by Audi, BASF and Covestro with the development of their bio-based hardener.

The use of CO2 to produce plastic takes step forward with new Covestro plant.

A bio-based coating has created a greener way to paint trains.

How could skin pigments be used to strengthen clothing and fabrics in our homes?

New collaboration hopes to reap the synergies available in the global health and nutrition markets.



Topics: BBWNChemicals, Feedstock&Clusters

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About the Author

Emily O'Dowd
Emily O'Dowd
On graduating with a degree in English Literature at Royal Holloway University of London, Emily joined the editorial team. When she isn't writing articles for the website or interviewing experts in more