New High-Performance Plastics with Positive Eco-Balance
In collaboration with Covestro and other partners from industry and research, RWTH Aachen University is currently developing processes for the large-scale production of a new high-performance plastic. The material is to be used in the aviation, automotive, and medical industries.
In a joint project with the Leverkusen-based polymers company Covestro, TU Berlin, Kunststoff-Zentrum Leipzig and aircraft manufacturer Airbus, the Chair of Technical Thermodynamics (LTT) has developed a high-performance thermoplastic (HTP) for use in many industries. The application of the new material would result in increased sustainability and performance of products in diverse fields such as aviation, automotive, and health care.
The next challenge is to develop a manufacturing process for the continuous large-scale production of the new material. This is the goal of a research project coordinated by Covestro, which receives funding from the the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
As Professor André Bardow, head of the LTT, explains, “HPT is a high-performance plastic which can be processed by injection molding, and which uniquely combines several good properties. It is stable with high hardness and resistant to heat and many solvents. Test batches of the new material are already being produced.”
For many years LTT has been involved in the development of system-analytical methods and technical components for energy systems as well as theoretical and experimental research into fluid systems. Special emphasis is placed on the ecological evaluation of new production processes for innovative plastics. In the present project, the Chair undertakes an ecological assessment within the framework of a life cycle analysis.
Environmentally-Friendly and Cost-Efficient Production
In the current BMBF research project “DreamCompoundConti,” a continuous process is to be developed that enables environmentally compatible and economical production on an industrial scale. Over the next three years, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research will provide funding of up to 1.5 million euros through the “r+Impuls – Impulse für industrielle Ressourceneffizienz” funding measure (funding code 033R199), which is part of the “Research for Sustainability (FONA³)” framework program.
“With this new joint project, we are underlining our efforts to produce particularly high-performance plastics in a climate-friendly and simultaneously economically efficient process,” said Covestro CEO Dr. Markus Steilemann.
Lean Production Process
A special feature of HPT production is that it is based on easily accessible basic chemicals. Since these are already being used for the production of foams, for example, they do not have to be produced specifically for this purpose.
For the first time, a novel catalyst system enables the production of thermoplastic HPT from these basic chemicals. Compared to the production of conventional high-performance thermoplastics, the new process helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions and save energy, as complex process steps are no longer required.
In comparison with products already available on the market, the new material offers quantifiable potential for resource savings: An initial Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of the industrial manufacturing process, conducted at RWTH Aachen University, has shown that the production of HPT results in a more than 20 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions during production compared to similar thermoplastics. At the same time, the new continuous process under development requires fewer solvents, which results in a significantly better life cycle assessment compared to conventional processes.