Polymere manufacturer Covestro wants to produce aniline from biomass instead of petrochemical raw materials in the future. In the Bio4PURPro project, a team of researchers led by Covestro succeeded in further optimizing the novel process, transferring the first steps of the process to industrial scale and producing several tons of a key aniline precursor.
Covestro uses one million metric tons of aniline annually, which is an important starting material for the production of polyurethane; a plastic required for everyday products such as mattresses and insulation materials. Up to now, aniline has been produced almost exclusively from crude oil. Covestro is turning to alternative raw materials as part of their circular economy strategy. In the Bio4PURPro project, researchers from Covestro and five partners made significant progress in obtaining aniline from biomass: they were able to substantially improve yields and concentrations of the microbiological conversion. Additionally, they already carried out the fermentation and purification process steps on an industrial scale. The researchers successfully produced bio-based aniline and further processed it into the polyurethane precursor methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) as well as polyurethane itself. Various tests showed that the properties of the new bio-based materials are comparable to their fossil-based counterparts.
Even before the first funded project, Covestro and partners succeeded in producing a few grams of bio-based aniline in the laboratory. The process comprises a biocatalytic and a thermochemical step: first, industrial sugar solution is processed into a central aniline precursor with the help of microorganisms. This is then converted to aniline with the use of heat. Following the successful Bio4PUR (2016 - 2019) and Bio4PURPro (2019 - 2022) projects, one of the aims of the current Bio4PURDemo project (2022 - 2025) is to transfer the process to an industrial scale.
All three projects have been or are being funded by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) through the Agency for Renewable Resources (FNR). Final reports are available in the FNR project database (in German).
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