micals, and is also seen as a promising candidate for use as an alternative fuel additive, as well as an electrolyte in high per- formance lithium batteries. Currently, however, the toxic sub- stances phosgene and carbon monoxide are used to produce DMC. “Our aim was to replace this manufacturing process with a non-toxic synthesis method using carbon dioxide, alcohol and a catalyst,” explains Felix Steyskal, Head of the Environ- mental Resources & Technologies Business Unit. The green process was developed to laboratory scale in the ‘CarbOrg’ Re- search Studio Austria set up for this purpose, and a patent is already pending. The process is now being successfully tested in operation at a continuous reactor facility in Tulln.
The next step is a pilot plant with a production capacity of up to a ton a day, which will be established over the coming years as part of a spin-off company involving an array of industry part- ners. Its use as a fuel additive is percei- ved as the greatest market opportunity for DMC manufactured in a non-toxic man- ner. “It could be a replacement for MTBE, 30 million tons of which is produced annually and is rated as a groundwater ha- zard in several US states. This opens up a large, global mar- ket,” says an optimistic Steyskal. A further decisive advantage of this method is that it provides a means of transforming harmful carbon dioxide, for example from flue gas, into a va- luable industrial raw material, a win-win situation for industry and the environment. The team is therefore hard at work deve- loping further processes using the greenhouse gas as a buil-
ding block for synthesis.
After synthesis, even green, biobased chemi- cals need to be purified. This is currently achieved by means of energy-intensive distil- lation processes. The scientists at AIT are re- searching into cheaper and, above all, much more energy-efficient membrane technology instead. “There’s been a lot of progress in this field over the past few years, particularly with respect to the durability and selectivity of the membranes,” says Steyskal. The focus lies on optimising membrane processes for use on an industrial scale, for extracting pure techni- cal glycerine from by-products of biodiesel manufacture, for example.
Head of Business Unit Environmental Resources & Technologies
Using new methods of synthesis and separation we have successfully de- monstrated that valuable raw materials for the che- micals industry can be economically produced from sustainable products and using non-toxic pro- cesses.