RCI’s scientific background report: “RCI carbon flows report – Compilation of supply and demand of fossil and renewable carbon on a global and European level” (Oct. 2023)



The Carbon Flows report is a compilation of supply and demand of fossil and renewable carbon on a global and European level. It provides a comprehensive understanding of today’s carbon flows and what it means to replace fossil carbon with renewable carbon in the materials and chemicals sectors. It’s main intent is to provide a uniform and transparent data basis for a future carbon management that can be used and shared by industry, associations, policy-makers, science and alike.

In the last five years, the mindset around carbon has changed fundamentally. Of course, there is no way around the fact that the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere pose an existential threat to life on Earth. But at the same time, carbon is the main component of our food, the basis of all organic chemicals and plastics, and the backbone of life on Earth.
In the chemicals and plastics sectors in particular, almost 90% of the carbon used as feedstock is fossil carbon. This fossil carbon must be replaced by renewable carbon from recycling, biomass and CO2 by 2050 to avoid a further influx of fossil carbon into our technosphere and atmosphere.

This report provides a comprehensive, detailed and updated carbon flow data basis that significantly surpasses previous publications, containing more than 35 figures and tables with corresponding descriptions of methodology, source material and data. All data have been corroborated as best as currently possible by scientific publications, feedback from experts and additional research. Remaining gaps and differences are transparently depicted and explained as well as possible.

The nova experts assessed data from a multitude of sources. A wide range of data on material flow are used to compile a comprehensive inventory of carbon stocks and flows. The sectors covered include all applications of organic carbon from fossil resources and biomass production, from raw materials through utilisation to final end-of-life. This includes use of carbon for feed and food, for materials, for energy and for fuels. A special focus is put on the carbon demand in the chemical and plastic industry today and tomorrow, with several figures specifically zooming into this sector and including scenarios for a full defossilisation by 2050.

The Carbon Flows report is designed to be a living document that we would like to update every one to two years if possible. This also means that we look forward to your feedback, additional input, new data and suggestions from any interested party. Please directly contact the main author of the study for this: ferdinand.kaehler@nova-institut.de

DOI No.: https://doi.org/10.52548/KCTT1279


Main authors: Ferdinand Kähler, Olaf Porc, Michael Carus with comprehensive input by all members of the Renewable Carbon Initiative
Date of publication
Oct 2023
File type