Environmental potential of carbon dioxide utilization in the polyurethane supply chain
Potential environmental benefits have been identified for the utilization of carbon dioxide (CO2) as a feedstock for polyurethanes (PUR). CO2 can be utilized in the PUR supply chain in a wide variety of ways ranging from direct CO2 utilization for polyols as a PUR precursor, to indirect CO2 utilization for basic chemicals in the PUR supply chain. In this paper, we present a systematic exploration and environmental evaluation of all direct and indirect CO2 utilization options for flexible and rigid PUR foams. The analysis is based on an LCA-based PUR supply chain optimization model using linear programming to identify PUR production with minimal environmental impacts. The direct utilization of CO2 for polyols allows for large specific impact reductions of up to 4 kg CO2-eq. and 2 kg oil-eq. per kg CO2 utilized, but the amounts of CO2 that can be utilized are limited to 0.30 kg CO2 per kg PUR. The amount of CO2 utilized can be increased to up to 1.7 kg CO2 per kg PUR by indirect CO2 utilization in the PUR supply chain. Indirect CO2 utilization requires hydrogen (H2). The environmental impacts of H2 production strongly affect the impact of indirect CO2 utilization in PUR. To achieve optimal environmental performance under the current fossil-based H2 generation, PUR production can only utilize much less CO2 than theoretically possible. Thus, utilizing as much CO2 in the PUR supply chain as possible is not always environmentally optimal. Clean H2 production is required to exploit the full CO2 utilization potential for environmental impact reduction in PUR production.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Carbon Dioxide Utilisation