While the reductive pentose phosphate cycle is responsible for the fixation of most of the carbon in the biosphere, it has several natural substitutes. In fact, due to the characterization of three new carbon fixation pathways in the last decade, the diversity of known metabolic solutions for autotrophic growth has doubled. In this review, the different pathways are analysed and compared according to various criteria, trying to connect each of the different metabolic alternatives to suitable environments or metabolic goals. The different roles of carbon fixation are discussed; in addition to sustaining autotrophic growth it can also be used for energy conservation and as an electron sink for the recycling of reduced electron carriers. Our main focus in this review is on thermodynamic and kinetic aspects, including thermodynamically challenging reactions, the ATP requirement of each pathway, energetic constraints on carbon fixation, and factors that are expected to limit the rate of the pathways. Finally, possible metabolic structures of yet unknown carbon fixation pathways are suggested and discussed.