Carbon2Chem® represents a key building block for the climate protection in industry. Improving climate protection means not only reducing carbon emissions but also decreasing or eliminating use of fossil-based raw materials. Industry companies are making continuous, intensive efforts to throttle back their energy consumption and cut their emissions of gases that harm the environment. However, in some cases, they are coming up against the limits of what can be done in terms of the processes’ thermodynamic and economic requirements. Most new, innovative techniques are not now ready for large-scale use.
In this context, cross-industry networks offer industry sectors with high energy consumption and emission levels the opportunity to contribute to sustainability. The purpose of the joint project Carbon2Chem® is to turn industry process gases such as smelting gases from steel production into a valuable source of carbon for the chemical industry. The project is being coordinated by a team consisting of Fraunhofer UMSICHT, thyssenkrupp AG and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion (MPI-CEC) and funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
The aim of the project is that, in the future, fossil-based raw materials in the chemical industry will be replaced with unavoidable carbon emissions from the industry sector, all through renewable energy. A cross-industry production network consisting of representatives from the basic materials industry, the chemical industry and the energy sector is being established to achieve this. Process gases and waste heat from the steel, cement and lime sectors can be used as a source material for producing synthetic fuels, plastics and other basic chemicals. Taking a modular, step-by-step approach to carbon utilization in cross-industry networks allows large industrial sites in Germany and other parts of the world to protect the climate while still remaining competitive.
The first phase of the Carbon2Chem® project (June 2016 to May 2020) focused on developing and researching suitable methods. Other core elements of this initial phase included demonstrating technical feasibility and proving that these methods are not only economically viable, but also sustainable. In the second phase of Carbon2Chem®, the researchers aim to confirm that the methods developed in phase one are suitable for large-scale use, thus laying the foundations for a low-emission basic materials industry. The BMBF has provided further funding for the second phase, amounting to 75 million euros to be drawn down by 2024. The project partners are investing additionally more than 100 million euros by 2025.
However, the joint project must also tackle the challenge of addressing the domestic economic issues involved in this transformation. For example, the partners must consider how to strike a balance between avoiding job losses and helping other industries with high CO2 emissions, such as cement, lime and waste heat recovery plants, play their part in achieving climate neutrality.
The milestones achieved in the individual lighthouse projects of the first Carbon2Chem® phase (June 2016 to May 2020) laid the foundations required for the second phase, which is running from June 2020 to May 2024. For example, a designated laboratory building was set up for the project on the Fraunhofer UMSICHT campus, with 500 m2 of lab space and 30 office work stations. This space is being used to develop purification techniques for specific gases and to produce methanol and higher alcohols, which then undergo further testing with real gases in the specially built technical center. The technical center has a surface area of 3,700 m2 and is located right beside the factory premises of thyssenkrupp Steel Europe AG in Duisburg.
During this second phase, the researchers are focusing on long-term testing in both the laboratory and the technical center. Their aim is to validate their technical methods further and scale them up for industrial use from 2025 onward.
The second phase will also see the team for the synthesis gas subproject L-III conducting intensive work on the composition, purification and processing of smelting gases at the thyssenkrupp location in Duisburg, as well as other process gases. This is also the jumping-off point for the subprojects L-II, L-III, L-IV and L-V, which focus on various different products, namely methanol, urea, higher alcohols and polymers. The subproject L-I on CO2 sources and infrastructure is a new addition. This subproject will deal with the issue of transferring the Carbon2Chem® technology to various industry point sources for CO2, such as lime, waste incineration and cement plants as well as changes in the steel industry. Another focus area for this subproject is considering what might be a suitable hydrogen and carbon dioxide infrastructure for large-scale carbon capture and utilization solutions.
Finally, the results of the individual subprojects will be compiled to form an optimized, uniform group of plants in the overarching system integration subproject, L-0. To achieve this integrated system, the researchers are conducting simulated calculations and investigating its economic viability and sustainability.
The L-KK subproject on coordination and communication is another new addition for phase two. This subproject will support the coordination of the overall project as well as communications within the consortium and with external parties. The overall coordinators of the joint project are thyssenkrupp AG, the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion and Fraunhofer UMSICHT. The L-KK subproject team also intend to formulate proposals for regulations for achieving a climate-neutral industry sector by 2045.