CO2 Conversion into Chemicals and Fuels

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

CO2 conversion into chemicals and fuels is a transformative technology that captures carbon dioxide (CO2), a major greenhouse gas, and transforms it into valuable products like fuels, plastics, and industrial chemicals. This innovation directly addresses the urgent need for decarbonization while creating new economic opportunities within a circular economy framework.

Impact on climate action

The innovation of CO2 Conversion into Chemicals and Fuels under the theme C2V – CO2 to Value offers a promising avenue for climate action by transforming greenhouse gases into valuable resources. This approach mitigates emissions while fostering a sustainable energy transition, thereby significantly contributing to global efforts to combat climate change.


This innovation relies on a variety of chemical and biological processes to convert CO2. Some key technologies and concepts include:

  • Electrochemical Conversion: Utilizing electricity to drive chemical reactions, splitting CO2 molecules into carbon and oxygen, and then recombining them with other elements to create desired products like formic acid, ethylene, or ethanol.
  • Biological Conversion: Employing microorganisms, like bacteria or algae, that naturally consume CO2 and convert it into useful compounds such as biofuels, bioplastics, or proteins.
  • Thermochemical Conversion: Using heat and catalysts to drive reactions, converting CO2 into syngas (a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen), which can then be used to produce a wide range of chemicals and fuels.
  • Photocatalytic Conversion: Utilizing sunlight and specialized catalysts to trigger chemical reactions, converting CO2 and water into hydrocarbons, methanol, or other valuable chemicals.

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

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Novel Catalysts: Scientists are developing new and improved catalysts that can efficiently drive CO2 conversion reactions at lower temperatures and pressures, reducing energy consumption and costs.
  • Electrolyte Optimization: In electrochemical conversion, research focuses on developing electrolytes that enhance reaction efficiency and durability, leading to higher yields and longer-lasting systems.
  • Genetic Engineering of Microorganisms: Researchers are genetically modifying microorganisms to enhance their ability to consume CO2 and produce desired products, improving the efficiency and output of biological conversion processes.
  • Hybrid Systems: Combining different conversion technologies, such as electrochemical and thermochemical processes, can offer advantages in efficiency and product diversity.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Electrochemical Carbon Splitting
  • Thermochemical Conversion Methods
  • Photocatalytic CO2 Reduction
  • Novel Catalyst Development
  • Electrolyte Enhancement Strategies
  • Hybrid Conversion Systems
  • Methanol Production from CO2
  • Advanced Catalyst Design
  • Microbial CO2 Sequestration
  • Syngas Generation Techniques
  • Photocatalytic Hydrocarbon Synthesis
  • CO2-to-Ethanol Processes
  • Enhanced CO2 Conversion Efficiency
  • Bioplastic Production from CO2
  • Carbon-Neutral Fuel Generation
  • Electrochemical CO2 Reduction Systems

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 useful products such as synthetic fuels and chemicals using renewable energy sources.
    • Uniqueness: Carbon Engineering is unique in its approach to tackling climate change by not only capturing CO2 but also converting it into valuable products. Their technology enables the production of carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative fuels and chemicals.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions target industries looking to reduce their carbon footprint, including transportation, energy production, and manufacturing. They also cater to organizations interested in sustainable fuel alternatives, such as airlines and shipping companies.
  • Twelve:
    • Technology Focus: Twelve is likely focused on electrochemical CO2 conversion, utilizing renewable energy sources to drive the conversion of CO2 into valuable chemicals and fuels. Their technology may involve innovative catalysts and electrochemical processes.
    • Uniqueness: Twelve stands out for its focus on electrochemical CO2 conversion, offering scalable and efficient solutions for transforming CO2 emissions into valuable products. Their approach may enable the production of high-value chemicals and fuels with minimal environmental impact.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments could include industries seeking sustainable alternatives to conventional chemical production methods, such as pharmaceuticals, plastics, and agriculture. Additionally, they may cater to energy companies looking to decarbonize their operations.
  • Opus 12:
    • Technology Focus: Opus 12 specializes in electrochemical CO2 conversion technology, aiming to transform CO2 emissions into valuable products like methane, ethylene, and ethanol. Their technology may involve novel catalysts and reactor designs.
    • Uniqueness: Opus 12 is unique in its focus on developing modular electrochemical reactors that can convert CO2 into a variety of high-value products. Their technology offers flexibility and scalability, making it suitable for various applications and industries.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions cater to industries seeking sustainable alternatives to traditional chemical production methods, including energy, chemicals, and materials. They may also target organizations looking to reduce their carbon footprint and meet sustainability goals.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Wageningen University & Research:
    • Technology Enhancements: Wageningen University & Research is focusing on developing advanced technologies for converting livestock waste into valuable products such as biofuels, biogas, and bio-based chemicals. They are exploring innovative anaerobic digestion processes, microbial fermentation techniques, and thermochemical conversion methods to maximize the extraction of energy and nutrients from livestock waste.
    • Uniqueness of Research: The research at Wageningen University & Research integrates principles of circular economy and sustainability into the design of livestock waste-to-value solutions. They are investigating synergies between livestock farming, waste management, and renewable energy production to create closed-loop systems that minimize environmental impact and maximize resource efficiency.
    • End-use Applications: The waste-to-value solutions developed at Wageningen University & Research have applications in various sectors, including agriculture, energy, and biotechnology. For example, biofuels produced from livestock waste can be used to power farm equipment and vehicles, while bio-based chemicals can replace fossil-based inputs in industrial processes, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on finite resources.
  • Cornell University:
    • Technology Enhancements: Cornell University researchers are exploring innovative approaches to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming, such as enteric methane reduction strategies and manure management techniques. They are developing dietary supplements, feed additives, and dietary management strategies to reduce methane production in ruminant animals and improve the efficiency of nutrient utilization.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Cornell’s research integrates cutting-edge technologies such as genomics, metagenomics, and precision agriculture into the development of livestock emission reduction solutions. They are leveraging genetic selection, microbiome manipulation, and digital monitoring systems to identify and implement sustainable practices that minimize emissions while maximizing animal health and productivity.
    • End-use Applications: The emission reduction strategies developed at Cornell University have implications for livestock producers, policymakers, and environmental organizations. By implementing these solutions, farmers can reduce their carbon footprint, improve the sustainability of their operations, and meet regulatory requirements related to air and water quality.
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are focusing on developing integrated systems for managing and valorizing livestock waste. They are exploring novel bioreactor designs, microbial consortia, and bioconversion processes to convert organic waste into valuable products such as biofertilizers, animal feed supplements, and renewable energy.
    • Uniqueness of Research: The research at UIUC emphasizes a holistic approach to addressing environmental challenges associated with livestock farming, considering factors such as nutrient cycling, ecosystem services, and social equity. They are developing decision support tools and stakeholder engagement strategies to facilitate the adoption of sustainable waste management practices at the farm level.
    • End-use Applications: The waste-to-value solutions developed at UIUC have applications in agriculture, waste management, and renewable energy sectors. For example, biofertilizers produced from livestock waste can improve soil health and crop productivity, while biogas generated from anaerobic digestion can be used for heating, electricity generation, and vehicle fuel.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

While large-scale commercial implementation is still underway, several pilot projects and partnerships are demonstrating the viability of CO2 conversion into chemicals and fuels:

  • Carbon Engineering has partnered with Occidental Petroleum to build a large-scale DAC and synthetic fuel production plant in Texas.
  • Twelve is working with the U.S. Air Force to demonstrate the use of their CO2-derived jet fuel in aircraft.
  • Siemens Energy is developing a pilot plant in Germany that uses CO2 and renewable energy to produce synthetic methane, which can be injected into the natural gas grid.