The chemical industry is also faced with the challenge of reducing emissions of climate-damaging CO2 to zero. A study shows that certain substances can be used in the synthesis of important intermediates.

A Berlin research team reports that they have developed a more sustainable method for the direct production of an important industrial substance. The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released was much lower when they produced propylene oxide, the scientists explain in the journal “Nature Communications”.

Propylene oxide is an important feedstock in the manufacture of substances used in a wide range of consumer products such as paints and coatings, adhesives, furniture upholstery, shoes and cosmetics. So far, it has been produced in a series of expensive, environmentally harmful steps, as the scientists working with Annette Trunschke from the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin explain. They hope that the new results could help develop more environmentally friendly production processes in some consumer goods markets.

According to the research group, the chemical industry is responsible for around 14 percent of CO2 emissions in the industrial sector. So far, the production of propylene oxide has also meant high energy consumption for many process steps in which expensive auxiliary chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide are used, and a lot of CO2 is also released.

With their method – in which the reaction conditions such as temperature and the composition of the gas mixture are optimized – they obtain the intermediate products propylene and propylene oxide directly by oxidizing propane without producing significant amounts of CO2. “Our discovery points the way to an environmentally friendly production of propylene oxide and propylene in one step,” say the team. The approach is scalable and, depending on raw material prices, quite competitive with current industrial technologies.