UCL Energy Institute


UCL Energy Institute climate tech spinout uses AI to cut industry emissions by gigatons

20 October 2021

World-leading sustainability research from UCL Energy Institute and Cambridge University has been used to create technology which could cut CO2 emissions in the global cement industry and other energy-intensive trades.

The four co-founders of Carbon Re, l-r:  Daniel Summerbell, Buffy Price, Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Aidan O'Sullivan

These hard-to-abate industries, which include cement and steel, are currently responsible for more than 20% of all global emissions.

However, the new technology, which is based on world-leading sustainability research from UCL and Cambridge University academics, including UCL Energy Institute Associate Professor Dr Aidan O’Sullivan, could provide a lifeline for businesses that are facing existential threats in the face of the current energy crisis by reducing their CO2 emissions by 20%.

Carbon Re’s cloud-based platform, Delta Zero, could also benefit industries financially, by saving a single cement plant US$2.3-5.9 million (£1.6m – £4.2m) each year – something that would otherwise be unachievable. The effects for customers would be immediate and there would be no capital expenditure. This is possible thanks to deep reinforcement learning, a field of AI which is best suited to managing complex decision making.

By analysing a customer’s manufacturing data, Carbon Re is able to recommend ways to cut emissions during the production process of materials such as cement, steel and glass, by modelling the production environment and identifying the optimal process for the lowest possible carbon dioxide output and fuel use.

Professor David Price, Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement) at UCL said:

We are delighted to be a part of creating Carbon Re and to support them in their mission to help heavy industry reduce its emissions and get closer to the target of Net Zero. The use of AI, alongside industrial sustainability expertise from UCL academics has the potential to help change the way industries are run and protect the planet in the long-term.”

Dr Aidan O’Sullivan, Associate Professor in Energy and Artificial Intelligence at UCL Energy Institute, said:

At Carbon Re we're translating AI research into gigatonnes of impact on emissions and solving some of the biggest challenges associated with climate change."

The Clean Growth Fund, the UK venture capital fund, has co-led a £1m investment in Carbon Re, alongside the UCL Technology Fund (managed by AlbionVC in collaboration with UCL Business Ltd) and UCL Business Ltd’s Portico Ventures, the University of Cambridge Enterprise Fund (co-managed by Parkwalk Advisors), and Blue Impact Ventures (founded by Tier CEO, Lawrence Leuschner).

The investment will commercialise Carbon Re’s work, which originally started at UCL’s Energy Institute and the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing. Currently the cement industry is Carbon Re’s primary area of focus but the company plans to expand into other energy-intensive industries, including steel and glass, over the next 12-18 months.

UCL Business Ltd (UCLB), part of UCL Innovation & Enterprise, is the commercialisation company for UCL - bringing together exceptional ideas, innovations and industry to benefit society and the economy. UCLB’s track record of success includes over £1.5 billion raised in investment for UCL spinouts, and Portico Ventures is enabling the next wave of technology-based businesses to thrive in a fast-moving ecosystem.

Senior Business Manager at UCLB, Mark Harding, said:

Dr Aidan O’Sullivan has developed capabilities at UCL in deep reinforcement learning. Application of specialist artificial intelligence capabilities will enable Carbon Re to offer its clients instant reductions in energy consumption, cost and carbon emissions.”