01. Jul 2019

Algae-based carbon fibre offers environmental benefits

Algae-based carbon fibre offers environmental benefits

Renewable carbon fibre material combinations are opening up new applications in building and construction. Now, research from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has calculated that in theory, carbon fibres produced from algae oil, extracts more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than their production releases.

aA research project spearheaded by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has been launched to further advance these technologies.

The most recent global climate report (IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C) took a look at manufacturing processes and the pathways to mitigate their use of carbon dioxide (CO2), which led to this effort to find alternatives to help get climate change under control.

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 development of the various processes is accompanied by technological, economic and sustainability analyses. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) has dedicated funds amounting to around 6.5 million Euro to fund the research at TU Munich.

Microalgae bind carbon dioxide

Due to their fast growth, microalgae, like those cultivated at the technical algae centre at TUM’s Ludwig Bölkow Campus south of Munich, can actively store the greenhouse gas CO2 in 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.

For example, oil-forming yeasts produce yeast oil from the algae sugars, which is a feedstock for sustainable plastics. Furthermore, 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.

Sustainable production of carbon fibres

In the further course of the project, the plastics will be combined with the carbon fibres to produce corresponding composite materials. “The carbon fibres produced from algae are absolutely identical to the fibres currently in use in the industry,” says project lead Thomas Brück, Professor for Synthetic Biotechnology at TU Munich. “Therefore, they can be used for 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, they are also lighter than aluminium and stronger than steel.


Image: Pariya Shaigani, PhD candidate at the Werner Siemens Chair of Synthetic Biotechnology, on an e-scooter with a step made from a composite material integrating granite and carbon fibers from algae (by A. Battenberg / TUM).

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