Using renewable sources of carbon

Nowadays, industry uses large volumes of fossil resources such as crude oil and natural gas as sources of carbon. Industry will not be able to manage without carbon in the future either. Biomass, residual material and CO2 that accrues in other industrial processes can offer climate-friendly alternatives.


Carbon is one of the most important elements for industry. For example, it is used as fuel, as raw material for producing plastic and as an excipient and alloying agent in steel production. However, fossil sources are still predominantly used.

New technologies make it possible to do without carbon in industrial processes to some extent. The production of process heat can be switched to renewable energy in the form of electricity or hydrogen, for example. However, in many cases such as the manufacture of plastics, carbon is an essential part of the product or process. If carbon cannot be replaced in an appropriate way, a combination of circular economy, bio-economy and further use (Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU)) will be necessary in the future to close the carbon cycle and operate without a negative effect on the climate.

Biomass – biogenic carbon as part of climate-neutral industrial processes

When fossil carbon sources are burned, CO2 that has been trapped under the ground for millions of years is released. This is not the case with biomass. Plants such as trees grow within a period of a few years and absorb CO2 through photosynthesis. If the wood is used as biomass at a later stage and burned, for example, the amount of CO2 released is only the same as the quantity the plants absorbed from the atmosphere while growing. So the CO2 is kept in circulation. To achieve a good climate balance, however, biomass may only be cultivated and used in a sustainable manner; we also have to take into account transport routes, the protection of biodiversity and potential competition as regards land use. This includes land use for growing food, as well as forestry for sequestering CO2 over the long term and creating areas to serve as carbon sinks. Sustainably generated biomass will not be sufficient to cover the entire carbon demand of the industrial sector. Biomass must therefore be deployed in a purposeful and economical way. It is, however, a key part of the climate-neutral processes of the future for industry. The possibilities for use are manifold: biomass can be used as raw material in the chemical industry, for instance, or as fuel to produce process heat in the cement industry.

Residual material as a source of carbon

Residual material can be used as raw material in industrial processes. To this end, the idea of the circular economy envisages products, materials, energy and resources as well as waste and residual materials being fed back into the loop after their life cycle to be thus reused, repurposed and/or recycled for as long as possible. This means that carbon, which is contained in so many products and therefore also in waste, can be put back into the loop and used for new products – for example plastic waste. This conserves resources and frequently reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Reusing CO2 from other processes

CO2 that has occurred in other processes and been successfully captured can replace crude oil as a carbon carrier in the chemicals industry. However, using CO2 to produce serviceable products requires a lot of energy, meaning that an extremely large amount of renewable energy must be available to do this. For this reason, CO2 utilisation technologiesare only implemented on an experimental basis in the industrial sector.

You will find further information on these pages

Want to go back to the overview of CO2 management? Then click here.

Want to know more about the use and storage of CO2? Then click here.

Want to know more about climate-neutral alternatives for industrial process heat? Then click here.

Want to find out in which areas emissions could be avoided using H2? Then click here.

Want to know more about carbon dioxide in the circular economy? Then click here.

Your contact

Portrait der Projektmanagerin Industrie und Produktion Dr. Iris Rieth in einem Raum mit industriellem Design.

Dr. Iris Rieth

Project Manager Industry and Production

Phone: +49 209 408 599-12

Send e-mail

Current publications

CO2 in a climate-neutral basic materials industry

The discussion paper of the Carbon Dioxide Management Working Group, developed together with 17 partners from industry and science, summarises impulses and concrete requirements for sustainable carbon management.

1,88 MB 22.12.2021 pdf