Milestone for climate protection: Carbon2Chem pilot plant opened

innovation | Sustainability and climate protection | Turning CO2 into something valuable is exactly what our major Carbon2Chem project is all about. On September 20, 2018, thyssenkrupp officially started producing sustainable methanol from metallurgical gases at the Duisburg pilot plant – a green world premiere.

A Thursday morning in late summer 2018. The site of the thyssenkrupp steel mill in Duisburg was busy. A large tent with a blue carpet has been positioned next to a complex with yellow stair railings that can already be seen from a distance. No wonder, since a milestone in climate protection was being set here today.

The Carbon2Chem site, located right on the premises of thyssenkrupp's huge steel location Duisburg.The Carbon2Chem Technikum, located right on the premises of thyssenkrupp’s huge steel location Duisburg.

Carbon2Chem: From exhaust gas to recyclable material

The researchers at thyssenkrupp are facing a historical challenge: transforming steel mill gases into something valuable. The steel mill’s industrial waste gases contain chemical elements such as nitrogen, hydrogen and climate-damaging CO2, which can, with the right process, be processed into synthesis gases – starting materials for chemicals such as ammonia, methanol, polymers or higher alcohols.

The appropriate name for the ambitious mission: Carbon2Chem. To coordinate this major project, thyssenkrupp worked closely with institutes of the Fraunhofer Society and the Max Planck Society, as well as 15 other partners from research and industry.

Climate-neutral synthesis

But what is so special about Carbon2Chem? The great contribution to climate protection and to a successful energy revolution. Up to now, chemical companies have been producing synthesis gases using fossil fuels such as natural gas or coal. At Carbon2Chem, however, thyssenkrupp deliberately uses surplus electricity from renewable energies. Carbon2Chem not only converts CO2 from the smokestacks of the steel mill, but also saves the CO2 that was previously used for the production of synthesis gas. Pretty smart. And pretty sustainable.

Subsidized world premiere

On the day of the opening ceremony, the research team officially began producing the synthetic fuel methanol using the smelter gases of the neighboring steel plant. This is the first time in the world that gases from steel production, including the CO2 they contain, are chemically converted in this way.

Project Manager Wiebke Lüke (center) indicates the direction that thyssenkrupp takes with Carbon2Chem: forward!
Group photo in front of the water electrolysis plant: Head of Innovation Markus Oles, Wiebke Lüke, CEO Guido Kerkhoff, Germany's Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek, board member Donatus Kaufmann and CTO Reinhold Achatz (from left to right)
Group photo in front of the water electrolysis plant: Head of Innovation Markus Oles, Wiebke Lüke, CEO Guido Kerkhoff, Germany's Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek, board member Donatus Kaufmann and CTO Reinhold Achatz (from left to right)

Politicians have also recognized the potential of Carbon2Chem: The Federal Ministry of Education and Research supported the construction with 60 million euros, thyssenkrupp itself invested almost 34 million euros in the pilot plant. Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek also attended the opening ceremony and visited the individual areas of the pilot plant before the official part of the event.

Gas cleaning: ditch what has no value

The first station of the tour led by Carbon2Chem project manager Wiebke Lüke: the gas cleaning complex of the plant. In the heart of the pilot plant, the researchers free the gases from the coking plant, the blast furnace and the converter of the steelworks, from all substances that have no added value for Carbon2Chem.

Water electrolysis – powered by renewable energies

Right next door, thyssenkrupp decomposes water into its components oxygen and hydrogen after energy is supplied. Both are later added to the purified gases.

And what’s best: the electricity required for hydrogen electrolysis is supplied by renewable sources such as geothermal energy, hydropower or wind energy. The dream of a carbon cycle, which many researchers have been longing for, will finally become reality in the pilot plant, even if it is still in test operation.

Historical joint project

Wiebke Lüke explained that the elements HO2, CO, CO2 and CO2 are further processed into synthesis gas in the laboratories of the pilot plant. These ingredients ultimately produce valuable products such as fertilizers, plastics or fuel.

A quick stop-off in the Technikum's laboratories.
A quick stop-off in the Technikum's laboratories.
In keeping with the historical occasion, Research Minister Anja Karliczek signs her signature on the
In keeping with the historical occasion, Research Minister Anja Karliczek signs her signature on the "door sign" of the Carbon2Chem laboratories. After all, the project was also realized with fundings from her ministry.

Some project partners are already using the premises of the pilot plant – others will soon be moving in. For example, Covestro AG will research the production of isocyanates in a laboratory. The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the Max Planck Institute will also be active in the pilot plant. The Swiss company Clariant, which supplies the catalyst for methanol production as well as catalysts and chemicals for gas purification, will also soon be active on site.

Paris climate targets: achievable with Carbon2Chem

“Today the Carbon2Chem concept is proving its value in practice,” said Guido Kerkhoff, CEO of the thyssenkrupp group. “Our vision of virtually CO2-free steel production is taking shape.” Andreas Goss, CEO of the steel division of thyssenkrupp, and Andreas Pinkwart, NRW’s Minister of Innovation and Economics, also pointed out that the opening of the pilot plant is nothing less than a milestone for the energy transition and climate protection.

Even a business delegation from China did not hesitate to join the many guests at the Carbon2Chem inauguration.
Even a business delegation from China did not hesitate to join the many guests at the Carbon2Chem inauguration.
thyssenkrupp CEO Guido Kerkhoff: "Our vision of virtually CO2-free steel production is taking shape."
Despite a busy schedule, NRW State Minister of Innovation Andreas Pinkwart (left) did not miss the opportunity to speak at the historic celebration.
Despite a busy schedule, NRW State Minister of Innovation Andreas Pinkwart (left) did not miss the opportunity to speak at the historic celebration.

Research Minister Anja Karliczek further emphasized this milestone: “There’s no point just prescribing climate protection targets if we don’t have the technical means to implement them. That’s why we are supporting forward-looking projects like Carbon2Chem. They show that investments in climate-friendly technologies are worthwhile.”

Global potential for a greener industry

The minister is right: Carbon2Chem has the potential to make around 20 million tons of the annual CO2 emissions of the German steel industry economically usable when implemented on an industrial scale. This also makes Carbon2Chem extremely attractive beyond Germany’s and Europe’s borders. After all, there are about 50 steel mills around the globe that could be considered for Carbon2Chem.

In addition, the technology can in principle also be transferred to other CO2-intensive industries: thyssenkrupp is already holding talks with interested parties from various regions. Carbon2Chem can thus make a significant contribution to achieving the goal of greenhouse gas neutrality formulated at the 2015 UN Climate Conference in the second half of the century.

Charbon2Chem: Off to a sustainable future!

Finally, the thyssenkrupp Executive Board, politicians and technology chief Reinhold Achatz gathered around a blue buzzer, accompanied by numerous press representatives.

Pushing the button: Guido Kerkhoff, Anja Karliczek, Reinhold Achatz, NRW State Minister of Innovation Andreas Pinkwart, Donatus Kaufmann and Steel CEO Andreas Goss (from left to right) officially inaugurate the Carbon2Chem pilot plant together.
Pushing the button: Guido Kerkhoff, Anja Karliczek, Reinhold Achatz, NRW State Minister of Innovation Andreas Pinkwart, Donatus Kaufmann and Steel CEO Andreas Goss (from left to right) officially inaugurate the Carbon2Chem pilot plant together.
Time for a chat: Following the official inauguration ceremony, the numerous guests had the opportunity to talk about Carbon2Chem and its value for the energy transition.
Time for a chat: Following the official inauguration ceremony, the numerous guests had the opportunity to talk about Carbon2Chem and its value for the energy transition.

A joint push of a button later unfolded a huge banner over their heads: “The official start of turning CO2 into something valuable”. The successful launch of Carbon2Chem was official. And the opportunity for a sustainable future has become even more tangible.

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