Covestro Pioneers Eco-Friendly Aniline Production in Bid to Cut Carbon Footprint
Covestro Pioneers Eco-Friendly Aniline Production in Bid to Cut Carbon Footprint

Covestro Pioneers Eco-Friendly Aniline Production in Bid to Cut Carbon Footprint

  • 11-Mar-2024 11:25 AM
  • Journalist: Patricia Jose Perez

Covestro, a German chemical group operating at one of Europe's largest chemical complexes, is embarking on a trial to produce a fundamental chemical, aniline, using sugar as its primary material instead of oil. This shift comes as the chemical industry endeavors to diminish its carbon footprint. Aniline serves as a crucial component in the production of foams, extensively utilized in mattresses, armchairs, and building insulation.

While large-scale commercialization of this process may still be years away, this experiment signifies a modest advancement in the chemical sector's effort to reduce carbon emissions, which have become increasingly urgent due to the climate crisis. Approximately a quarter of the 100 million barrels of oil produced globally daily is directly consumed by the chemical industry. Consequently, there's a pressing need for a complete overhaul of this industry's practices. Covestro, once a division of chemical titan Bayer, initiated trials at its Leverkusen complex in western Germany toward the end of 2023 following successful laboratory tests.

Traditionally, aniline has been derived from crude oil derivatives like naphtha and benzene, processes that emit substantial quantities of carbon dioxide, a significant greenhouse gas contributor. Globally, around six million tonnes of aniline are produced annually, with Covestro accounting for approximately one million tonnes of that total.

Currently, the pilot project in Leverkusen yields only a fraction of this output, extracting merely half a tonne of aniline daily. While the utilization of plant-based materials in manufacturing may eliminate reliance on fossil fuels, the achievement of carbon neutrality through this method remains uncertain. Particularly concerning is the utilization of cultivated biomass like maize, sugar cane, and sugar beet, as industrial agriculture associated with these crops contributes to CO2 and methane emissions, biodiversity loss, and excessive water consumption. Opting for waste materials over crops from large-scale farming is preferable to mitigate these environmental impacts.

Other German companies are also exploring similar avenues. For instance, chemical giant BASF is exploring the use of organic waste, agricultural products, or vegetable oils to produce basic chemicals like aniline. However, several barriers hinder the progression of such projects. These obstacles range from the availability of organic matter, which is in high demand amid the accelerating green transition, to the higher costs associated with producing chemicals through organic materials compared to oil.

The scalability of these processes will only be justified if they result in substantial CO2 reductions during manufacturing. Additionally, there must be evidence that these endeavors can be financially viable in a competitive environment to support ongoing research. Moreover, Germany faces the challenge of persuading manufacturers to establish costly new facilities for chemical processing. The energy-intensive chemicals sector in Germany has been grappling with a crisis exacerbated by the disruption in cheap Russian gas imports following the invasion of Ukraine by Moscow, which has led to soaring power costs. Consequently, many companies are prioritizing relocating production to more cost-effective locations abroad rather than expanding domestically. Presently, energy costs in Germany are three to four times higher than those in the United States, and bureaucratic hurdles further burden the industry.

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