Germany’s Covestro heads EU project to research recycling of PU foams


Covestro is leading an EU-wide project to research chemical recycling for polyurethane (PU) foams, the German chemicals major said on Monday.
The Circular Foam project involves 22 partners from nine EU countries.

Covestro said the research, if successfully applied in a wide industrial scale, could achieve savings of 1m tonnes/year of waste and 2.9m tonnes/year of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most common greenhouse gas (GHG) to cause global warming.

The project will also save €150m/year in PU incineration costs, the producer said.

A large portion of disposed PU foams is incinerated for energy recovery, a process that creates high emissions of CO2. Raw materials are also lost.
The Circular Foam project will look at developing two possible recycling paths for PU rigid foams: chemolysis and smart pyrolysis.

It will have an estimated cost of around €19m; the EU’s funding will stand at €15.8m, according to Covestro.

“Only the total costs and funding rates are published, not the shares of the individual project partners,” said to ICIS a spokesperson for the company.
“Covestro is making a significant own contribution to cover the project costs.”

PU foams are used as insulation in refrigerators and buildings, but “to date there is a lack of coordinated waste management and suitable recycling processes” for a sustainable, circular life cycle, said Covestro.

PU is one of the main products that Covestro manufactures. It also produces isocyanates, polycarbonate (PC), coatings and adhesives.

“The goal [of the Circular Foam project] is to close the material cycle for PU rigid foams and to prepare the Europe-wide implementation of this blueprint … The project will also explore how the two processes can be transferred to industrial use as quickly as possible,” said Covestro.

Covestro was already developing a chemical recycling process for flexible foams from mattresses, which it implemented on a pilot scale earlier this year.

“An important key to this [circularity] is the development of innovative recycling technologies for as many types of plastic as possible. The chemical recycling of rigid PU foam will be an important link in this chain,” said Covestro’s CEO Markus Steilemann.

Other leading partners in the Circular Foam project are the CAT Catalytic Center of Germany’s public research university RWTH Aachen University, and peers ETH Zurich in Switzerland and the University of Groningen in Sweden.

To achieve this, Covestro is working closely with RWTH Aachen University and its CAT Catalytic Center, ETH Zurich, BioBTX and the University of Groningen.