Carbon-absorbing concrete is attracting attention and funding | Green Business

2021-11-24 03:25:19 By : Mr. Jerry Zhao

CarbonCure's technology can be installed in a concrete plant in one day.

There is a moment for carbon sequestered concrete.

In mid-April, two climate technology startups CarbonCure Technologies and UCLA CarbonBuilt, which focus on decarbonizing the world's most widely used building materials, won the highest award in the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition. Everyone will receive $7.5 million to further develop and commercialize their methods.

Both start-up companies are solving the carbon dioxide problem at the manufacturing site. The CarbonBuilt method of UCLA captures the carbon dioxide produced during the production process and then uses hydrated lime to inject it into the concrete. The ordinary Portland cement (also known as calcium silicate cement) used in this process is reduced by 60% to 90%, and does not require as much heat, which has energy efficiency advantages. CarbonCure also fixes CO2 into the concrete. Its equipment (about the size of a microwave oven) is free to install, but the company that uses it needs to buy carbon dioxide elsewhere. Currently, carbon dioxide is food grade, but the idea is that it can eventually be collected anywhere. 

CarbonCure President Jennifer Wagner (Jennifer Wagner) said that her company's technology is installed in about 300 factories-an increase of 50 units in the first quarter of this year. (In the long run, there are about 100,000 concrete factories worldwide.) CarbonCure's technology finds supporters among manufacturers who set carbon reduction targets and companies that want to invest in projects that permanently store carbon dioxide, including Shopify and Stripe. Amazon and Microsoft are also one of its supporters. CarbonCure's goal is to help store 500 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2030. 

"What sets us apart is the scalability of our solution and how it integrates with the existing supply chain," Wagner told me.

Two other teams focused on converting captured carbon dioxide into income-generating product materials also received recognition. They are Carbon Upcycling and Newlight Technologies, which are collaborating to test nanoparticles that can be used in construction; Carbon Corp. is converting carbon dioxide into nanotubes that can be used in construction products or ultimately in industrial catalysis, batteries, or nanoelectronics.

When I discussed the results with him, Marcius Extavour, vice president of climate and energy at XPRIZE, told me that although the focus of the competition was not clear, he was not surprised by the results. "This is a huge opportunity; these are not niche solutions," Extavour points out, especially in developing economies.

According to a report on potential decarbonization solutions for the industry released by the Climate Work Foundation, traditional concrete manufacturing processes account for nearly 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and the United States, China and India account for the largest part of this emissions. Given the trillions of dollars available for infrastructure projects during the recovery from COVID-19, the attention to concrete is particularly timely. One of the authors of the report wrote: "A clear conclusion that we have reached during the research process is that there is no single solution, but a series of changes necessary to achieve the goal of net zero emissions."

The Portland Cement Association (PCA), which represents cement producers, announced in November last year its “ambition” to achieve carbon neutrality in the cement and concrete industries by 2050. Rick Bohan, PCA's vice president of sustainable development, said the production process, but also involves addressing policies and building codes that make the transition more difficult. "People are eager to achieve this goal...With the right incentives, we can do it."

Many start-up companies are also focusing on reducing the carbon intensity of the concrete production process.

Please pay close attention to Solidia Technologies, which disclosed a $78 million round of financing last week (including new support from previous investors John Doerr and Bill Joy) and appointed a new CEO with long-term ties in the industry. Solidia incorporates carbon dioxide into its materials and uses a less energy-intensive production process. 

The other company I am following is Nexii Building Solutions, which produces lightweight panels that can be bolted together on construction sites. The company touted its ability to significantly reduce construction waste. Its materials have been used in about 12 buildings, including the Starbucks coffee shop, which was built in just 6 days. The embodied carbon associated with the project is estimated to be reduced by 30%. Nexii has some very interesting supporters and consultants, including actor Michael Keaton (who is helping the company build a factory in Pittsburgh) and Uber chairman and Apple board member Ronald Sugar. 

By the way, XPRIZE is looking for participants for a new $100 million competition that aims to catalyze carbon removal methods funded by Elon Musk’s foundation. The focus is on technologies or nature-based solutions that extract carbon dioxide directly from the air or ocean. Please note: "To win, you need a comprehensive solution." 

This story was updated on May 7 to clarify the impact of Nexii materials.

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