German industrial giant Siemens Energy and chemicals manufacturer Evonik have commissioned a renewables-powered pilot plant that uses CO2 and water to produce low-carbon chemicals via a process they call ‘artificial photosynthesis’.

The project in Marl in the North of Germany’s heavily industrialised Ruhr area, part of the so-called Rheticus I and II schemes that are sponsored by the federal education and research ministry with €6.3m ($7.4m), will create a synthetic gas that could be used in climate-friendly plastics or food supplements.

Green is the new black. Subscribe to Accelerate

Get the market insight you need into the global oil & gas industry's energy transition – from the new newsletter from Upstream and Recharge. Sign up here

“With Rheticus, we are showing how we can set up climate-friendly production processes in the chemical industry and at the same time manufacture new innovative products,” German education and research minister Anja Karliczek said.

“And this works not only here in Germany, but potentially all over the world. This opens promising opportunities for technology exports. We want to promote effective climate protection and continue to have a strong industrial base in Germany.”

Siemens Energy and Evonik’s artificial photosynthesis is based on the the natural process through which solar energy is used by plants to to produce sugar, from CO2 and water, with renewable energies producing chemicals from CO2 and water through electrolysis with the help of bacteria.

The pilot plant in Mari consists of a carbon monoxide (CO) electrolyser developed by Siemens Energy, a water electrolyser and the bioreactor developed by Evonik. In the electrolysers, CO2 and water are converted into carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) with renewable electricity powering the first step of the process.

In coming weeks, the companies said, the composition of the synthesis gas and the interaction between electrolysis and fermentation will be “optimised”, while a unit for processing the liquid from the bioreactor will be set up to obtain the pure chemicals.

“Climate protection is not possible without chemistry, because our industry supplies and develops solutions for the energy turnaround,” Evonik deputy chairman Harald Schwager said.

Siemens Energy CEO Christian Bruch added: “With our hydrogen and CO electrolysis, we are building a bridge from green electricity to sustainable material applications. The close cooperation between politics, science and business partners, like Evonik, is an important step in this direction.”

German lawmaker and federal commissioner for green hydrogen Stefan Kaufmann said the pilot plant for the production of speciality chemicals was a real pioneering achievement. “After all, a green hydrogen economy can only succeed in Germany as a country of innovation, if innovative technologies are used,” he stated.

Germany’s government in June had presented a €9bn national hydrogen strategy that sets targets for the ramp-up of a massive production of green H 2 produced from domestic renewable energy sources, and aims at kick-starting a global green hydrogen supply chain.

The Rheticus project is a spin-off of the Copernicus projects, which are among the government’s largest research projects on the energy transition.