CO₂ as raw material

The energy sector has long been the focus of climate protection efforts. In future, it will be possible to move away from fossil fuels, and thus from carbon, as a basic energy source, for example through the use of solar and wind power in conjunction with electric cars. This development is therefore referred to as decarbonisation. However, a significant portion of oil and natural gas resources is also used in the chemical industry to manufacture a wide range of materials, from plastics to vitamins. Carbon will still be required in this sector as it is a basic building block of most chemicals. Decarbonisation is therefore out of the question, and instead the focus must be on the development of renewable carbon sources. According to current projections for achieving a greenhouse gas-neutral Germany by 2050, these renewable hydrocarbons will play a central role in the energy transition and will exceed future power requirements by a significant margin.

To date, the only renewable carbon source has been Plant biomass, which fixes carbon dioxide from the air using sunlight. The competition for arable land and biomass is likely to increase sharply in future, in part due to the growth in global population. Attention is therefore turning to new technologies which convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into useful chemical compounds. CO2 fixation can either occur via microbiological technologies (in particular Algae) or via chemical and electrochemical processes. The capture and use of CO2 as a raw material is also frequently bundled together with the concepts of Power-to-X / PtX / P2X (see project „Kopernikus PtX“) or CCU (carbon capture and utilisation). Current research projects are therefore investigating ways of using CO2 from exhaust gases, for example those occurring in industrial processes (e.g. power stations, cement plants, steelworks), or those released through biomass conversion (biogas plant, fermentation processes). Extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere is another option that is currently in development.

The groundwork for the development of a CO2-based industry is currently being laid both in terms of research and policy. The initial accompanying research in the form of life cycle analyses and sustainability assessments is therefore essential in weighing up various potential trajectories, ensuring sustainable development, and avoiding any unintentional adverse effects on man and nature.

ifeu has a high level of expertise in the areas of life cycle assessment and integrated sustainability assessment, and has spent over two decades monitoring projects relating to processes which produce large quantities of CO2 (industrial processes and biomass conversion), and projects aimed at facilitating the future use of CO2. We also advise decision-makers in business and politics on issues including the life cycle assessment methodology in relation to the capture, processing and use of CO2.



The Value Chain from Microalgae to PUFAs: technological, environmental and integrated sustainability assessments

The research project "The Value Chain from Microalgae to PUFA" (PUFAChain) aims at creating a profound scientific and technological basis for the industrial production of high-value products from…

D-FACTORY: The Micro-Algae Biorefinery

The research project "The Micro-Algae Biorefinery (D-FACTORY)" aims at developing a concept for a microalgae biorefinery that is used for the sustainable production of Dunaliella algae and its…


A. Ramirez Ramirez, A. El Khamlichi, G. Markowz, N. Rettenmaier, M. Baitz, G. Jungmeier, T. Bradley: LCA4CCU – Guidelines for Life Cycle Assessment of Carbon Capture and Utilisation. Report initiated and financially supported by the European Commission Directorate-General for Energy, 2020

T. Fröhlich, S. Blömer, D. Münter, L.-A. Brischke: CO2-Quellen für die PtX Herstellung in Deutschland – Technologien, Umweltwirkung, Verfügbarkeit. ifeu-paper 3/2019

S. Deutz, T. Fröhlich, J. Giegrich, A. Liebich, C. Merz, A. Schreiber, J. Sutter, P. Zapp: Darstellung unterschiedlicher methodischer Herangehensweisen zur Allokation von CO2 in der LCA. In: „Optionen für ein nachhaltiges Energiesystem mit Power-to-X-Technologien: Nachhaltigkeitseffekte, Potenziale, Entwicklungsmöglichkeiten“. 2. Roadmap des Kopernikus-Projektes „Power-to-X“: Flexible Nutzung erneuerbarer Ressourcen (P2X), DECHEMA, Frankfurt, 2019

H. Fehrenbach, A. Liebich, J. Harth, N. Abdallah, A. Detzel, B. Simon, T. Fröhlich: Bilanzierung von CO2 für Prozesse in der chemischen Industrie – Eine methodische Handreichung, in „Abschlussbericht zur Fördermaßnahme CO2Plus“, DECHEMA, Frankfurt, 2017

G. Reinhardt, C. Cornelius: Sustainability of PUFAs from microalgae – an integrated assessment approach. Applied Energy, 2014

G. Reinhardt: Wie grün sind Algen? Ein Überblick aus Nachhaltigkeitssicht (How green are algae? Assessing sustainable development of algae production). Proceedings of the

„1. Bioökonomie-Kongress Baden-Württemberg“, Stuttgart, Germany, 29-30 October 2014

G. Reinhardt, C. Cornelius: Algal biomass use: an integrated assessment of its sustainability with LCA as starting point. Proceedings of the Algae Biomass Summit 2014, San Diego, USA, 29 September – 3 October 2014

P.J. Harvey, G. Reinhardt and 17 co-authors: The CO2 Microalgae Biorefinery: High value products from low value wastes using halophylic microalgae in the D-Factory. Part 1: Tackling cell harvesting. Proceedings of „22nd European Biomass Conference and Exhibition“, Hamburg, Germany, June 23 – 26, 2014

G. Reinhardt: Conclusive Sustainability Assessment of Algal Biomass Pathways through Considerable Extension of LCA Application. 22nd EU BC&E Algae event, Hamburg, Germany, 25 June 2014

G. Reinhardt: How to extend an LCA of algal biomass pathways to a conclusive sustainability analysis. Proceedings of the „4th International Conference on Algal Biomass, Biofuels & Biomaterials“, Santa Fe, USA, June 15 – 18, 2014

A. Kryvenda, S. Durm, G. Reinhardt, T. Friedl: The PUFAChain project: a value chain from algal biomass to lipid-based products. Proceedings of the “7. Bundesalgen­stammtisch”, Köthen, 3-4 June, 2014

G. Reinhardt: PUFAChain: the value chain from microalgal diversity to PUFAs: technological, environmental and integrated sustainability assessments. Proceedings of the 2nd European Workshop „Life Cycle Analysis of Algal based Biofuels and Biomaterials“, Brussels, 24 April 2014

P.J. Harvey, G. Reinhardt and 14 co-authors: Glycerol production by halophytic microalgae strategy for producing industrial quantities in saline water. Proceedings of the „20th EU Biomass Conference & Exhibition“, June 18 – 22, 2012, Milan, Italy, pp 85-90, 2012

P.J. Harvey, G. Reinhardt and 12 co-authors: Glycerol Production by Novel Strains of Dunaliella and Asteromonas: Basis for producing industrial quantities of glycerol in highly saline water. Proceedings of the „20th EU Biomass Conference and Exhibition”, Milan, Italy, June 18-22, 2012