Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU) for Synthetic Fuels and Chemicals Production

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Carbon capture and utilization (CCU) for synthetic fuels and chemicals is an innovative approach to decarbonizing the oil & gas sector while creating valuable products. This technology involves capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from various sources, including industrial processes and directly from the atmosphere, and converting them into synthetic fuels, chemicals, and other useful materials.

Impact on climate action

Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU) for Synthetic Fuels and Chemicals accelerates decarbonization in the Oil & Gas Sector by converting captured CO2 into valuable products, reducing emissions. It enhances climate action by fostering sustainable energy transitions and mitigating environmental impacts, crucial for achieving global carbon reduction goals.


CCU for synthetic fuels and chemicals encompasses a multi-stage process:

  • Carbon Capture: The first step is capturing CO2 from different sources. Common methods include:
    • Post-combustion capture: CO2 is removed from flue gases after combustion using solvents or membranes.
    • Pre-combustion capture: CO2 is separated from fuel before combustion, often through gasification processes.
    • Direct Air Capture (DAC): Emerging technologies are capturing CO2 directly from the atmosphere using specialized filters or sorbents.
  • CO2 Conversion: Once captured, CO2 is converted into valuable products through various chemical processes, often powered by renewable energy sources. This includes:
    • Electrochemical Conversion: Using electricity to drive chemical reactions that convert CO2 into fuels like methane or methanol, or chemicals such as formic acid or ethylene.
    • Thermochemical Conversion: Utilizing heat, often from concentrated solar power, to drive chemical reactions that transform CO2 into syngas or other valuable intermediates.
    • Biological Conversion: Employing microorganisms, such as algae or bacteria, to convert CO2 into biofuels, bioplastics, or other bio-based products.
  • Product Refinement and Utilization: The final stage involves refining the synthesized products to meet industry standards and utilizing them in various applications, including transportation fuels, chemical feedstocks, building materials, and consumer products.

TRL : 5-8 (depending on the specific technology and product)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advancements in CO2 Capture Technologies: Researchers are developing more efficient and cost-effective methods for capturing CO2, including advanced solvents, membranes, and direct air capture technologies.
  • Novel Catalysts for CO2 Conversion: Innovations in catalysis are crucial for improving the efficiency and selectivity of CO2 conversion processes, enabling the production of a wider range of valuable products.
  • Electrochemical Conversion Advancements: New electrochemical reactors and processes are being developed to convert CO2 into fuels and chemicals with higher efficiency and lower energy consumption.
  • Integration with Renewable Energy Sources: Coupling CCU processes with renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, is essential for creating a truly sustainable and low-carbon production cycle.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Advanced CO2 Capture Techniques
  • Pre-Combustion CO2 Separation
  • Direct Air Capture Technology
  • Electrochemical CO2 Conversion
  • Thermochemical CO2 Conversion
  • Biological CO2 Conversion Processes
  • Sustainable Product Refinement
  • Renewable Energy Integration
  • Innovative Catalyst Development
  • Synthetic Fuel Production
  • Chemical Feedstock Creation
  • Building Material Applications
  • Cost-Effective Capture Solutions
  • High-Efficiency Conversion Processes

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Carbon Engineering:
    • Technology Focus: Carbon Engineering specializes in Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology, which captures CO2 directly from the atmosphere. They focus on converting captured CO2 into synthetic fuels (like synthetic gasoline and diesel) and chemicals.
    • Uniqueness: Carbon Engineering is known for its advanced DAC technology, which is pivotal in addressing climate change by removing CO2 from the atmosphere and converting it into valuable products.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions cater to industries involved in energy, transportation, and chemicals where reducing carbon emissions and producing carbon-neutral fuels are critical objectives.
  • Prometheus Fuels:
    • Technology Focus: Prometheus Fuels develops technology to produce carbon-neutral gasoline and diesel from captured CO2 and renewable electricity. They aim to create sustainable transportation fuels through CCU.
    • Uniqueness: Prometheus Fuels stands out for its approach to producing liquid hydrocarbon fuels directly from atmospheric CO2, using renewable energy sources.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments include automotive companies, transportation providers, and industries dependent on traditional fuels looking to transition towards carbon-neutral alternatives.
  • Dimensional Energy:
    • Technology Focus: Dimensional Energy focuses on developing scalable and efficient systems for CCU, particularly for producing synthetic fuels and chemicals using CO2 as a feedstock.
    • Uniqueness: Dimensional Energy may differentiate itself through innovative reactor designs or catalyst technologies optimized for CCU applications, aiming to enhance efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions are likely targeted at industries seeking sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, including energy producers, chemical manufacturers, and transportation sectors.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Stanford University:
    • Technology Enhancements: Stanford researchers are advancing CCU technologies for capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the oil & gas sector. They are developing novel materials and processes, such as advanced sorbents and catalytic systems, to enhance CO2 capture efficiency and reduce energy consumption.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Stanford’s approach includes the integration of renewable energy sources with CCU processes to produce synthetic fuels and chemicals. They are exploring innovative pathways to convert captured CO2 into value-added products, such as methane, methanol, or hydrocarbons, using electrochemical and biochemical methods.
    • End-use Applications: The research at Stanford has applications in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-based industries. By converting CO2 into useful products, such as transportation fuels or chemical feedstocks, the technology can help mitigate climate change while promoting sustainable development.
  • California Institute of Technology (Caltech):
    • Technology Enhancements: Caltech researchers are focusing on developing scalable CCU technologies tailored for the oil & gas sector. They are optimizing capture techniques, including membrane-based separation and solvent absorption, to efficiently capture CO2 emissions from industrial processes.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Caltech’s research emphasizes the utilization of captured CO2 as feedstock for producing synthetic fuels and chemicals through innovative catalytic processes. They are exploring new catalyst materials and reactor designs to enhance conversion efficiency and product selectivity.
    • End-use Applications: The CCU technologies developed at Caltech have potential applications in enhancing energy security and reducing carbon footprint in the oil & gas industry. Synthetic fuels and chemicals produced from CO2 can serve as sustainable alternatives to conventional fossil fuels, contributing to decarbonization efforts globally.
  • RWTH Aachen University:
    • Technology Enhancements: RWTH Aachen researchers are pioneering CCU technologies with a focus on integrating renewable energy sources into the oil & gas sector. They are developing hybrid systems that combine CO2 capture technologies with renewable electricity and heat to produce synthetic fuels and chemicals.
    • Uniqueness of Research: RWTH Aachen’s approach includes techno-economic analysis and lifecycle assessments to evaluate the feasibility and sustainability of CCU processes. They are exploring synergies between CO2 capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies to achieve net-zero emissions in the oil & gas industry.
    • End-use Applications: The research at RWTH Aachen University aims to provide scalable solutions for mitigating climate change through CO2 utilization. By converting captured CO2 into valuable products, such as hydrogen or synthetic fuels, the technology supports the transition towards a low-carbon economy while fostering economic growth and industrial competitiveness.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

While CCU for synthetic fuels and chemicals is still in its early stages of commercialization, several pilot projects and demonstration plants are showcasing its potential:

  • Audi e-fuel Project: Audi has partnered with Climeworks and other companies to produce synthetic diesel from CO2 captured from the atmosphere.
  • Sunfire GmbH: This German company has developed a technology for producing synthetic fuels from CO2 and water using renewable electricity. They have built a demonstration plant in Germany.