Bayer Searches for Source of Benzene

Article excerpt

The region's cheap supply of shale gas could solve another problem if government and industry collaborate on new ways to convert it to benzene, a local Bayer Corp. executive said at a Downtown conference on Thursday.

The company's MaterialScience division in Robinson is pushing for a research consortium, possibly with the help of National Energy Technology Laboratory, said Don S. Wardius, head of renewable and alternative feedstocks.

Chemical companies use benzene to make foam car seats, sporting goods and paints, but it's expensive and will probably need to be imported to replace declining supplies, Wardius said.

"This is a vision," he told about 130 researchers, government officials, and chemical and gas industry officials at the "Manufacturing Renaissance Series." "It could be revolutionary and transformative if it were to come about."

Bayer has been talking about the project with federal officials for about a year, said Andrew J. Gellman, the head of chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who sat on the same panel and works with the National Energy Technology Laboratory in South Park.

The key is finding a catalyst to make the conversion cheap enough to lower the price of benzene, they said.

"Bayer isn't wild about producing benzene itself," Gellman said after the talk. …