With the COP28 climate talks taking place in Dubai, many people are wondering what solutions are available right now that could help have a real impact on global emissions. We took the opportunity to talk to Buffy Price, Interim CEO and Co-founder of Carbon Re, a growing business created from research at UCL’s Energy Institute, which aims to reduce industrial CO2 by gigatonnes, by using artificial intelligence.
Q1: How does your AI technology reduce carbon emissions, and which industries is it used for?
Carbon Re is on a mission to reduce gigatonnes of industrial emissions every year. We are focusing on decarbonising cement and other foundational materials (such as steel and glass) which are responsible for more than 20% of global emissions. Cement alone accounts for 8%.
Our first product, Delta Zero Cement, is an AI-powered cloud platform driving energy efficiency in the high-heat part of cement production – where temperatures reach 1,400℃. Our software helps operators to manage the complexities of production by identifying and predicting the optimal process set points, resulting in significantly reduced fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
We are able to help each cement plant perform at its highest possible efficiency levels all while using existing infrastructure and without CapEx.
Q2: What is the potential for Carbon Re’s technology to reduce global emissions?
Today, we are reducing fuel use and CO2 emissions by 5% annually on average and in a standard cement plant, this is equivalent to taking 5,000 cars off the road every year.
We have a clear product development pathway to increase this to 8% and have also identified further research opportunities to increase our impact and reduce CO2 emissions up to 15-20%.
Q3: What is getting in the way of industries adopting this technology?
Cement production is a naturally ‘small c’ conservative industry which isn’t necessarily used to investing in software-based solutions. It is also a challenge to be an early startup with a new solution and few case studies, but we have been lucky to work with some brilliant early adopter cement partners as we have been developing our product.
We have also seen a shift in attitudes towards the application of AI technologies over the past year – from viewing AI as a future technology to something that can be leveraged today. This is in part thanks to innovations like Chat GPT.
Another challenge for the industry is how to choose from a wide range of emerging decarbonization technologies. Carbon Re researched thirteen of these technologies and our whitepaper Three Technologies to reduce climate change highlights three that are available today, that will have a significant impact on carbon emissions in the short term.
Q4: What are your thoughts about the potential for emerging technologies from universities to solve the climate crisis?
At Carbon Re, we have built an exceptional interdisciplinary team with expertise in AI, industrial processes, mathematics, fluid dynamics, innovation and product development, who are applying our research to solve problems in the field of machine learning and AI that have not been studied before.
We know that there is no single silver bullet solution to the decarbonisation challenges that we face on a global scale. We need our academic institutions to continue focusing research and innovation on these very real-world problems if we are to achieve our Net Zero targets, and for humanity to reimagine how we can live sustainably.
Q5: If you were in a lift with the G20 leaders, what would your message be?
There are a multitude of technologies and solutions that can be applied to cut CO2 emissions from energy intensive industries today (not in the 2030s and 40s); we need regulatory pressure to make them happen.
Q6: What’s it like working with UCLB?
UCLB is brilliant at leveraging its extensive network to support startups. Two weeks ago, UCLB gave me the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer!