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Germany: Chemicals from Carbon Dioxide and Eco-Electricity

Speciality Chemicals Based on Renewable Sources

| Editor: Alexander Stark

In the fermentation process—here at lab scale—, special bacteria are converting CO-containing gases to valuable chemicals through metabolic processes.
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In the fermentation process—here at lab scale—, special bacteria are converting CO-containing gases to valuable chemicals through metabolic processes. (Source: Evonik)

In a joint research project called Rheticus, Evonik and Siemens are working on electrolysis and fermentation processes that use electricity from renewable sources and bacteria to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into specialty chemicals.

Munich/Germany — The project was launched in mid-January and is due to run for two years. The first test plant is scheduled to go on stream by 2021 at the Evonik facility in Marl, Germany which produces chemicals such as butanol and hexanol, both feedstocks for special plastics and food supplements, for example. The next stage could see a plant with a production capacity of up to 20,000 tonnes a year, the companies announced, adding that there is also potential to manufacture other specialty chemicals or fuels. Some 20 scientists from the two companies are involved in the project.

According to Dr. Günter Schmid, technical project responsible of Siemens Corporate Technology, the scientist are developing a platform that will allow them to produce chemical products in a more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way than today. The platform will enable scalable plant designs.

The new technology also serves as an energy store, can respond to power fluctuations and help stabilize the grid, the developers claim. Rheticus is linked to the Kopernikus Initiative for the energy transition in Germany which is seeking new solutions to restructure the energy system. The Rheticus project will receive € 2.8 million ($ 3.4 million) in funding from Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

With the Rheticus platform, the companies want to demonstrate that artificial photosynthesis is feasible. Artificial photosynthesis is where CO2 and water are converted into chemicals using a combination of chemical and biological steps, in a process similar to how leaves use chlorophyll and enzymes to synthesize glucose.

Siemens is providing the electrolysis technology, which is used in the first step to convert carbon dioxide and water into hydrogen and carbon monoxide (CO) using electricity. Evonik is contributing the fermentation process, converting gases containing CO into useful products by metabolic processes with the aid of special micro-organisms. In the Rheticus project, these two steps are scaled up from the laboratory and combined in a technical test facility.

Nature Catalysis Paper by Evonik and Siemens

More information on the Rheticus project

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