A research team at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) is exploring novel ways to reduce the carbon footprint of materials manufacturing processes.
Theoretical calculations have now shown that producing materials from algae oil - including green carbon fibres - will extract more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than the production of these materials releases.
A recent global climate report – the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C - highlighted the need for carbon mitigation, including in manufacturing processes. The TUM team is now, therefore, spearheading a research project to further advance technologies to achieve this in an effort to combat climate change.
The project, called “Green Carbon”, aims to develop manufacturing processes for polymers and carbon-based light-weight construction materials based on algae which may be utilised in, for example, the aviation and automotive industry. The project is being funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research
Fast-growing microalgae, say the scientists, can actively store the greenhouse gas CO2 in the form of biomass. CO2 is mainly bound in sugars and algae oil. These can be used in chemical and biotechnological processes to produce precursors for a variety of industrial processes.
Yeast oil produced by oil-forming yeasts from the algae sugars can be used in the production of sustainable plastics. Enzymes can split the yeast oil into glycerine and free fatty acids. The free fatty acids are precursors for products like high-quality additives for lubricants, among others; the glycerine can be turned into carbon fibres.
“The carbon fibres produced from algae are absolutely identical to the fibres currently in use in the industry,” explained project lead Thomas Brück, Professor for Synthetic Biotechnology at TU Munich. The renewably-sourced carbon fibres are suitable for use in all standard processes in aviation and automotive production.
Furthermore, carbon fibres and hard rock can be used in a process of the industrial partner TechnoCarbon Technologies to produce novel construction materials. Not only do they have a negative CO2 balance, but they are also lighter than aluminium and stronger than steel.