TU Munich
Innovative materials with carbon fibers made from algae

22.07.2019 In combination with granite or other types of hard rock, carbon fibers make possible all-new construction and building materials. If the carbon fibers are produced from algae oil, production of the innovative materials extracts more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it sets free. A research project spearheaded by the Technical University of Munich/Germany (TUM), Munich/Germany, is to further advance these technologies.

A step of an e-scooter made from a composite material integrating granite and carbon fibers from algae
© Photo: TU Munich
A step of an e-scooter made from a composite material integrating granite and carbon fibers from algae

The objective of the project “Green Carbon” started on July 1, 2019 is to develop manufacturing processes for polymers and carbon-based light-weight construction materials based on algae which may be utilized e.g. in the aviation and automotive industry.

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

Due to their fast growth, microalgae 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.

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 glycerin and free fatty acids. The free fatty acids are precursors for products like high-quality additives for lubricants, among others; the glycerin can be turned into carbon fibers.

In the further course of the project, the plastics will be combined with the carbon fibers to produce corresponding composite materials. According to Thomas Brück, professor for synthetic biotechnology at TU Munich, the carbon fibers produced from algae are absolutely identical to the fibers currently in use in the industry. Therefore, they can be used for all standard processes in aviation and automotive production.

Furthermore, carbon fibers and hard rock can be used in a process of the industrial partner TechnoCarbonTechnologies GbR, Munich, to produce novel construction materials. Not only do they have a negative CO2 balance, they are also lighter than aluminum and stronger than steel.