How can the chemical industry be successfully transformed into a non-fossil future?

In an interview with the magazine "Spektrum der Wissenschaft", Prof. Walter Leitner shows how this can work

[Translate to EN:] Foto von Tasos Mansour auf Unsplash

The products of the chemical industry are of paramount importance to our lives. Today, they are made almost exclusively from crude oil, which supplies the necessary elements carbon and hydrogen. The "de-fossilization" of manufacturing processes is necessary for sustainable value creation in the chemical industry in order to convert the raw material base in addition to switching to a climate-neutral energy supply. In the article "The transformation of the chemical industry" in the magazine "Spektrum der Wissenschaft" issue 09/23 (click here for the online version), the focus is on carbon dioxide as a possible carbon supplier.

Together with scientists from various institutions, Prof. Walter Leitner of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion discusses the challenges, but also the opportunities, of this transformation. From a chemical point of view, CO2 is actually considered a waste product today. But if it is now used as a starting material, resources can be saved and emissions avoided - a new cycle is created. On the one hand, this requires the development of technologies that can be used to produce a small number of basic materials required in huge quantities by the chemical industry, such as methanol, from CO2 and hydrogen. At the same time, carbon dioxide and hydrogen can also be used for completely new production routes in the many other processes along the value chain. This lowers the carbon footprint of the products and, at the same time, less environmentally friendly reagents or waste streams can be avoided. MPI CEC is conducting research on improved and novel catalysts, which are essential for both strategies. Leitner emphasizes in the paper that CO2 utilization should not be used to preserve the fossil world, but rather is an essential contribution to getting off fossil feedstocks.