Columbus, Ohio–(COMMERCIAL WIRE)–A revolutionary Battelle technology for converting coal-derived liquids and biomass-derived feedstocks into polyurethane (PU) foam was named a winner in the 2022 R&D 100 Awards in the Process/Prototype category.
In addition to the Battelle award, the national laboratories where Battelle plays a management and operations role combined for 23 awards and six honorable mentions. Known as the “Oscars of Innovation,” the annual awards program for global R&D recognizes excellence in scientific and technological innovation with an emphasis on commercial-ready products, technologies and services that are expected to have enormous impact.
The carbon-to-polyurethane technology represents the ninth victory of the Battelle R&D 100 for Satya Chauhan, the principal investigator and co-inventor of the technology. It is the third R&D award for Battelle materials scientists Dan Garbark and Jeff Cafmeyer, who collaborated with Chauhan to lead the foam characterization work (Garbark is also a co-inventor). Battelle Technician Mark Davis was the process scaling lead for the project. Two patents related to the work were issued this year and a third is pending.
The applications for more environmentally friendly PU foam are vast, being widely used in the construction, furniture, aerospace and automotive industries for hundreds of uses ranging from insulation to sofa cushions. The annual market for these foams is approximately $80 billion. Currently, the vast majority of PU foams are made from petroleum-derived polyols. The new technology combines coal-derived liquids and biomass-derived feedstocks to create polyols.
“Oil sources are limited,” Chauhan said. “This is an opportunity for the industry to reduce dependence on oil, especially imported oil, and reduce the carbon footprint of polyurethane foam.”
Coal-derived liquids are considerably cheaper than petroleum, translating into significant cost savings for industries using polyurethane foam. The resulting foam is stiffer due to the aromatics in the carbon, which is an added benefit for many applications. Because the carbon is fixed in a long-lived product rather than burned, the process adds no carbon to the atmosphere. It is also possible to use liquid coal by-products from coke ovens (used in steelmaking), turning a waste product into a high-value commodity. The current process replaces up to 75 percent of petroleum-based polyols with a combination of polyols derived from coal and biomass.
Every day, the people of Battelle apply science and technology to solve what matters most. At major technology centers and national laboratories around the world, Battelle conducts research and development, designs and manufactures products, and provides critical services for government and commercial customers. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio since its founding in 1929, Battelle serves the homeland security, health and life sciences, energy and environmental industries. For more information, visit www.battelle.org.