The German companies Evonik and Beiersdorf will work together on a joint research project to investigate how bacteria can be used to turn carbon dioxide (CO₂) and water into raw materials for skincare products.
The process will be built on Evonik’s artificial photosynthesis technology – being developed independently of this project in collaboration with Siemens – and will be supported by €1M of funding from Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
Photosynthesis is the means by which plants use energy from light to convert CO₂ and water into sugars. Artificial photosynthesis mimics this process using bacteria rather than plants, to turn CO₂ and water into various different chemicals.
In this case, the chemicals produced will be raw materials for Beiersdorf to use in its skincare products, which include the well-known brands NIVEA and Eucerin. Evonik hopes that the first of the substances they develop will begin to undergo laboratory testing by the end of the year.
In 2016, the German government announced plans to make the country greenhouse gas-neutral by 2050 in fulfillment of the global Paris Agreement signed in 2015. To contribute to this goal, Evonik and Beiersdorf’s collaboration is part of BMBF’s P2X II Kopernicus, a project involving 42 academic and industrial partners with the aim of developing ways to produce high-quality end products such as fuels, plastics, and chemicals using renewable energy.
Both Beiersdorf and Evonik themselves have ambitious environmental goals. A representative from Evonik told me that, by 2025, the company aims to reduce its absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 50% compared with 2008.
“Using CO₂ as a raw material contributes to the reduction of CO₂ levels in the atmosphere,” the representative said. “We are convinced that industry is the key to driving forward sustainability, environmental protection, and the circular economy.”
The Berlin-based non-profit organization Climate Analytics reported in late 2019 that the EU’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are currently “insufficient” for meeting the Paris Agreement objectives. While global emissions of greenhouse gases are likely to fall by around 11% in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, Climate Analytics recently said that the pandemic is only delaying an increase.
If projects like Evonik and Beiersdorf’s collaboration gain traction, they could help the EU to keep down its greenhouse gas emissions and meet the ambitious Paris Agreement aim of limiting global temperature rise to less than two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.
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