Evonik and Siemens have commissioned a pilot plant that uses microorganisms to convert water and carbon dioxide into specialty chemicals.
The pilot plant has been built at Evonik’s site in Marl, Germany. It consists of electrolysers for carbon dioxide and water, provided by Siemens, that feed carbon monoxide and hydrogen to a bioreactor where they are fermented by microorganisms into chemicals.
The project has previously had success in producing first C2 compounds including ethanol and acetic acid, and then longer hydrocarbons including butanol and hexanol.
The aim of the project is to produce a platform technology that can use carbon dioxide and renewable power to feedstocks for specialty chemicals, plastics and food supplements.
The partners said the immediate priority of the project is to use the coming weeks to optimise the composition of the synthesis gas and the interaction between the electrolysis and fermentation operations. And the unit for processing the liquid from the bioreactor will be set up to obtain the pure chemicals.
The pilot plant is the latest stage in the Rheticus research project that was launched in 2018 and has been backed with more than €6m (US$7m) of funding from the German government. The latest phase runs until 2021.
Harald Schwager, Deputy Chairman of the Executive Board of Evonik, said: “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”.
Jurgen Heller, Programme Manager at Siemens Energy said looking ahead the technology could be expanded beyond chemicals production.
“The use of the technology is also of great interest in the production of synthetic fuels. Flexible use of CO electrolysis is possible at any time thanks to the modular system design.”
By Adam Duckett
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