Decentralized CCU Systems

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Decentralized CCU systems represent a paradigm shift in carbon capture and utilization (CCU), moving away from large, centralized facilities and towards smaller, modular systems that can be deployed closer to CO2 emission sources or in remote locations. This distributed approach offers advantages in terms of flexibility, scalability, and reduced transportation costs, enabling a more localized and efficient utilization of CO2 emissions.

Impact on climate action

Decentralized CCU Systems transform CO2 emissions into valuable products at localized levels, reducing overall carbon footprints. By decentralizing the process, they mitigate transportation emissions associated with centralized facilities. This innovation fosters community engagement and empowers local economies while actively combating climate change through tangible CO2 reduction.


Decentralized CCU systems can leverage a variety of CO2 conversion technologies, including:

  • Modular Electrochemical Conversion: Small-scale electrochemical reactors can be deployed at various locations to convert CO2 into fuels, chemicals, and other products.
  • Containerized Biological Conversion: Microbial fermentation systems can be housed in shipping containers for easy transport and deployment, enabling CO2 conversion into biofuels, bioplastics, and other bio-based products at the source of emissions.
  • Compact Thermochemical Conversion: Smaller, modular thermochemical reactors can be used to convert CO2 into syngas at a local level, providing a feedstock for various industrial processes.
  • On-Site CO2 Capture: Technologies like membrane separation or adsorption can be used to capture CO2 directly from flue gas streams at industrial facilities, enabling on-site CO2 utilization.

TRL : 5-7 (depending on the specific technology and application)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Standardized Modular Designs: Developing standardized, modular designs for CCU systems allows for easy transportation, installation, and integration, making decentralized deployment more feasible.
  • Process Intensification: Research focuses on developing compact and highly efficient CCU processes that can be implemented in smaller, modular systems.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning: AI and machine learning are being used to optimize the operation and performance of decentralized CCU systems, adapting to varying CO2 sources and product demand.
  • Blockchain for Supply Chain Management: Blockchain technology can be used to track and trace CO2 and its converted products in decentralized systems, ensuring transparency and accountability throughout the supply chain.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Modular Electrochemical Reactors
  • Containerized Microbial Fermentation
  • Compact Thermochemical Conversion
  • On-Site CO2 Capture Technologies
  • Standardized Modular Designs
  • Process Intensification in CCU
  • AI Optimization of CCU Systems
  • Machine Learning for CCU Efficiency
  • Decentralized CO2 Utilization Networks
  • Localized CO2 Conversion Facilities
  • Scalable CCU Technologies
  • Customized CCU Solutions for Industries
  • Distributed CO2 Emission Reduction
  • Real-Time Monitoring of CCU Processes
  • Decentralized CCU Infrastructure Development

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Carbon Engineering:
    • Technology Focus: Carbon Engineering specializes in Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology, which involves capturing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. They then utilize this captured CO2 for various purposes, such as producing synthetic fuels or sequestering it underground.
    • Uniqueness: Carbon Engineering is unique in its focus on DAC technology, which has the potential to directly remove CO2 from the atmosphere at scale. Their approach allows for the utilization of CO2 as a feedstock for fuel production, contributing to carbon neutrality or even carbon negativity.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions could be targeted towards industries seeking to reduce their carbon footprint, including transportation, energy production, and manufacturing.
  • Prometheus Fuels:
    • Technology Focus: Prometheus Fuels is likely focused on producing carbon-neutral or carbon-negative fuels using renewable energy and captured carbon dioxide. Their approach may involve combining renewable energy sources with CO2 captured from the atmosphere or industrial processes to produce synthetic fuels.
    • Uniqueness: Prometheus Fuels stands out for its emphasis on producing carbon-neutral or carbon-negative fuels, addressing both the emissions from fuel combustion and the carbon footprint associated with fuel production.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments may include transportation companies, airlines, and other industries reliant on fossil fuels, as well as consumers seeking environmentally friendly alternatives.
  • SkyNRG:
    • Technology Focus: SkyNRG is a pioneer in sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), including the use of CO2 captured from the atmosphere or industrial sources. They work with airlines and other stakeholders to promote the use of SAF as a viable alternative to conventional jet fuels.
    • Uniqueness: SkyNRG is unique in its focus on sustainable aviation fuels and its efforts to integrate CO2 capture technologies into fuel production processes. Their solutions offer airlines a way to reduce their carbon footprint and meet sustainability targets.
    • End-User Segments: Their primary end-user segments are airlines seeking to reduce their carbon emissions and meet regulatory requirements related to carbon neutrality and sustainability.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Technology Enhancements: MIT researchers are developing decentralized CCU systems that utilize innovative catalytic processes to convert CO2 emissions into high-value products such as fuels, chemicals, and building materials. They are focusing on enhancing the efficiency and selectivity of catalytic reactions to maximize the conversion of CO2 into valuable commodities.
    • Uniqueness of Research: MIT’s approach involves the integration of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power into decentralized CCU systems to drive the conversion of CO2 into value-added products. They are also exploring novel catalyst materials and reactor designs to improve the performance and scalability of CCU technologies.
    • End-use Applications: The research at MIT has broad implications for various industries, including transportation, manufacturing, and construction sectors. By converting CO2 emissions into useful products, decentralized CCU systems can help mitigate climate change while creating new economic opportunities and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
  2. Technical University of Denmark (DTU):
    • Technology Enhancements: DTU’s research focuses on the development of decentralized CCU systems that integrate biological and chemical processes to convert CO2 into valuable bioproducts such as biofuels, bioplastics, and pharmaceuticals. They are leveraging synthetic biology and metabolic engineering techniques to optimize microbial pathways for CO2 assimilation and product synthesis.
    • Uniqueness of Research: DTU’s approach combines biotechnological and chemical engineering principles to create versatile CCU platforms that can utilize a wide range of feedstocks and produce diverse bioproducts. They are also exploring the use of genetically modified microorganisms and enzyme catalysts to enhance the efficiency and specificity of CO2 conversion reactions.
    • End-use Applications: The bio-based products generated by DTU’s decentralized CCU systems have applications in agriculture, healthcare, and consumer goods industries. For example, biofuels produced from CO2 can be used as renewable alternatives to fossil fuels, while bioplastics can replace petroleum-based plastics in packaging and manufacturing processes.
  3. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL):
    • Technology Enhancements: NREL researchers are focusing on the development of decentralized CCU systems that leverage electrochemical and photocatalytic processes to convert CO2 into value-added products such as hydrogen, methane, and carbon-neutral fuels. They are exploring advanced materials and reactor configurations to enhance the performance and scalability of CCU technologies.
    • Uniqueness of Research: NREL’s approach involves the integration of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power into decentralized CCU systems to provide the energy required for CO2 conversion reactions. They are also investigating novel catalyst materials and electrochemical interfaces to improve the selectivity and efficiency of CO2 reduction reactions.
    • End-use Applications: The renewable fuels and chemicals produced by NREL’s decentralized CCU systems can help decarbonize transportation, energy, and manufacturing sectors. By utilizing CO2 as a feedstock for sustainable fuel production, these technologies can contribute to greenhouse gas mitigation efforts and promote the transition to a low-carbon economy.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Several pilot projects and partnerships are showcasing the feasibility of decentralized CCU systems:

  • Carbon Engineering: Is piloting its modular synthetic fuel production technology in remote communities in Canada.
  • Prometheus Fuels: Has partnered with Audi to demonstrate the use of their decentralized fuel production technology for powering vehicles.