In Germany, specialty chemicals major Evonik Industries AG (Evonik) and Siemens Gas and Power GmbH & Co. KG (Siemens Energy), the energy technology arm of Siemens AG have officially commissioned a pilot plant sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) that uses carbon dioxide (CO2) and water to produce chemicals.
Located in Marl, Evonik’s largest site in the northern Ruhr area, the pilot plant’s innovative artificial photosynthesis technology should contribute to the success of the energy revolution. Using renewable electricity, the pilot is an essential part of the Rheticus I and II research projects, announced by the two companies in January 2018 and which are sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with a total of EUR 6.3 million.
I am delighted that we have today given the go-ahead for a new test facility of the very highest standard in Marl. With Rheticus, we are showing how we can set up climate-friendly production processes in the chemical industry and at the same time manufacture new innovative products. And this works not only here in Germany, but potentially all over the world. This opens promising opportunities for technology exports. We want to promote effective climate protection and continue to have a strong industrial base in Germany. I am firmly convinced that we can succeed in both. I am pleased that my ministry is now investing a total of EUR 6.3 million in the new pilot plant in Marl with this goal in mind and wish all those involved every success, said Anja Karliczek, German Federal Minister of Education and Research in her opening address.
Artificial photosynthetic process
For the idea of artificial photosynthesis, which is behind the Rheticus experimental facility, the researchers took nature as a model. Just as plants use solar energy to produce sugar, for example, from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water in several steps, artificial photosynthesis uses renewable energies to produce valuable chemicals from CO2 and water through electrolysis with the help of bacteria.
Climate protection is not possible without chemistry, because our industry supplies and develops solutions for the energy turnaround. Research projects such as Rheticus are a motivation and innovation driver for a sustainable society, said Harald Schwager, Deputy Chairman of the Executive Board of Evonik and responsible for innovations.
This type of artificial photosynthesis can serve as an energy store and thus help to close the carbon cycle and reduce CO2 pollution in the atmosphere. At the same time, Schwager cautioned against overzealous phasing out of fossil fuels.
Security of supply and reliability in political decisions set the framework in which new things are created, Schwager said.
The pilot plant in Marl consists of a CO electrolyzer, developed by Siemens Energy, a water electrolyzer, and the bioreactor with Evonik’s know-how. In the electrolyzers, CO2 and water are converted into carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) with electricity in a first step.
Our goal is to use innovative technologies to enable new, more sustainable solutions. With our hydrogen and CO electrolysis, we are building a bridge from green electricity to sustainable material applications. The close cooperation between politics, science, and business partners, like Evonik, is an important step in this direction, said Christian Bruch, CEO of Siemens Energy.
This synthesis gas (syngas) is used by special microorganisms to produce specialty chemicals, initially for research purposes. These are starting materials for special plastics or food supplements, for example.
In the coming weeks, the composition of the syngas and the interaction between electrolysis and fermentation will be optimized. In addition, a unit for processing the liquid from the bioreactor will be set up to obtain pure chemicals.
Well-funded federal research
After successful completion of the current Rheticus project phase (Rheticus II), Evonik and Siemens Energy will have a unique platform technology at their disposal that can produce energy-rich and valuable substances such as specialty chemicals or artificial fuels from CO2 – in a modular and flexible manner.
The Rheticus research project is a spin-off of the Copernicus projects, one of the largest research initiatives of the German Federal Government on energy system transformation. Rheticus demonstrates how the Power-to-X idea can be successfully put into practice.
Today’s start of the Rheticus pilot plant for the production of specialty chemicals is a real pioneering achievement. After all, a green hydrogen economy can only succeed in Germany as a country of innovation, if innovative technologies are used. This requires courage and a spirit of research. The project partners at Rheticus are exemplary in demonstrating this, said Stefan Kaufmann, Member of the German Bundestag and Federal Commissioner for Green Hydrogen.