The production of cement, the world’s most abundant building material, accounts for five percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, concrete, which is necessary for cement production, represents a market segment with the greatest potential for profitable CO2 mitigation in the near-term.
Building materials that employ carbon capture and utilization (CCU) could reduce at least nine hundred million tonnes of CO2 annually. When compared to other segments of the CCU industry, the building materials market (concrete + aggregate) shows the greatest potential for CO2 mitigation.
Concrete is one of the few materials in the world that has the unique capacity to use CO2 to its benefit, and CarbonCure has designed commercially viable technology to do just this with extremely lower barriers to market entry when compared to other solutions. The company is helping to make stronger, greener, more affordable concrete as part of the collaborative effort to achieve the 2030 global CO2 reduction goals.
A report commissioned by the Pembina Institute shows concrete curing can provide noteworthy CO2 reduction potential of between thirty million tonnes and three hundred million tonnes per year. Moreover, a report by the Global CO2 Initiative indicates that the carbon-based products industry as a whole, has the potential to consume seven billion metric tonnes of CO2 annually by 2030, which is equal to fifteen percent of current annual global CO2 emissions.
“There is a growing industry globally of innovators who have figured out that several products can be made with CO2 emissions. So, rather than thinking of CO2 as just a waste product – something that goes up into the air and causes climate change – people are actually using CO2 as an ingredient to make high-value products,” explained CarbonCure’s Director of Sustainability Jennifer Wagner.
The company has devised an efficient, affordable, and scalable way to sequester CO2 waste in a process that is beneficial for the producer, the environment, and industry. Carbon dioxide from industrial polluters is captured, purified and liquefied. The pressurized tanks are then brought to concrete producers where CarbonCure’s proprietary technology can take that CO2 and precisely inject it into wet concrete as it is being mixed to enhance concrete’s strength and sustainability.
“CO2 reacts with concrete and solidifies, forming nano-calcium carbonate. The CO2 becomes converted from a gas to a solid. In essence, we are taking CO2 out of the air, where it would otherwise become a harmful greenhouse gas, and instead using it to make greener and stronger concrete.” The conversion into a solid mineral means that the carbon dioxide has been permanently removed from the atmosphere to become trapped within the concrete.
CarbonCure’s innovative technology can be retrofitted in existing masonry and ready-mix concrete plants, lowering a company’s carbon footprint and advancing the green building materials market. The technology successfully recycles CO2 without requiring large capital investments or extensive timelines. The system is relatively compact and can be installed in just a week, instantly providing customers with a return on investment.
“Many technologies that convert CO2 into other materials, such as plastics or chemicals, require significant investments in building new plants, which can cost several million dollars,” said Wagner. “Our technology is a retrofit that works with existing equipment and actually bolts onto concrete plants. This reduces our scaling barriers significantly.”
CarbonCure can customize the amount of CO2 being injected into each batch which allows its customers to optimize the product’s makeup and performance while offsetting five to ten percent of the carbon emissions taking place during the manufacturing process.
“By adding the CO2 to concrete, it actually makes the concrete stronger, which helps the concrete producers to save on their production costs. It’s a win-win scenario, where adding CO2 to concrete is making it greener, stronger, and less expensive to manufacture,” Wagner noted. While improving the compressive strength of the ready mixed concrete, producers can optimize their mix by reducing cement content in the concrete by five to eight percent.
The use of CarbonCure enhanced concrete products accounts for three material credits under LEED v4 Materials and Resources as well as LEED 2009 Innovation in Design credits because it helps to reduce the embodied CO2 emissions of concrete products. The company can also provide Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) and Health Product Declarations (HPD) for its products.
It is hard to believe that it has only been ten years since CarbonCure was founded on the work and vision of Robert Niven, a cleantech entrepreneur who has found commercial success by marrying sustainability, invention, and performance. “He was doing some research on this topic, and after graduating from McGill University, decided to start a company.” Niven was recently recognized with the 2016 Ernest C. Manning Innovation Award for the technology.
The first five years were dedicated extensively to research and development (R&D). In developing one of the few commercially viable technologies of its kind, CarbonCure has truly become an industry leader.
“The first few years were dedicated to understanding the science, making the technology work, and building our team. In the last year, we’ve really started to grow quickly, and we expect that trend to continue.”
CarbonCure has secured over $10 million in funding from several sources including the provincial and federal governments. Wagner credits the government for its commitment to supporting the R&D of environmentally sustainable technology solutions.
“The Province of Nova Scotia and Canadian federal government continue to be extremely supportive of clean technology companies like CarbonCure’s,” says Wagner. She notes that the company is now revenue generating and currently has almost fifty customers with CarbonCure technology installed.
“The company was targeting mainly masonry producers in the early days, but now we’ve expanded to the much larger ready-mix industry that makes up the majority of concrete production globally,” said Wagner. This will result in greater market opportunities for the company and reduce greater volumes of CO2.
Though there is considerable funding and support in Canada, much of its growth has been in the U.S. where it has found early adopters of clean technology, or cleantech as it is known. The Canadian government supports research and development but needs to make a greater effort to support cleantech adoption by industry, especially when the products being supported have proven results in line with government priorities.
“A lot of our growth is happening in the U.S. We’re now looking to accelerate our growth in Canada so Canadians will benefit from the economic and environmental benefits that the technology provides,” said Wagner.
The company expects that exponential growth is on the horizon. “Typically concrete producers will adopt the technology at one or two plants. When they see the benefits, they then quickly decide to adopt the technology across their fleet. This opens up significant growth opportunity both in North America and abroad in places like Europe, where many of CarbonCure’s customers are headquartered,” says Wagner. CarbonCure itself is headquartered in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and has established a second location in Birmingham, Alabama to support the market demand in the southeastern United States.
Its team of professionals offers the support required to make the transition to greener, stronger concrete. “Our team is made up of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, who thrive on finding solutions for complicated problems,” Wagner said. “The fundamental thread that motivates us all is the need for creativity and innovation; that’s something that we all definitely value and bring to the table in terms of finding the best way to solve these problems.”
Because of its commercially viable technology with proven results, CarbonCure is acknowledged as a leader in both the clean technology and CO2 utilization industries. Several prestigious awards stand as a testament to its success and reputation in the industry.
The company finds itself among the most creative, sustainable contributors from a cross-section of industries. CarbonCure was recently named in the 2017 Global Cleantech 100, a list produced by the Cleantech Group that recognizes the top 100 cleantech companies from around the world. This is the second year in a row that it has received this honour.
It is also in the running for the renowned $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE. The prize is cosponsored by NRG and COSIA, America’s largest power company and a Canadian association of oil sands producing firms, respectively. CarbonCure was named one of nine remaining Canadian teams in the twenty-seven semi-finalists. The challenge is for teams to develop breakthrough technologies that will convert CO₂ emissions from power plants and industrial facilities into valuable products, such as concrete. Teams are scored on the volume of CO₂ they convert into products, and the value of their products that they create.
CarbonCure has already proven its value in lowering emissions and is certainly a front-runner for this honour. Finalists for the XPRIZE will be announced at the end of 2017. This is a highly-anticipated announcement as the company hopes to be among the top names.
CarbonCure has grown from six to forty customers in the last twelve months, with plans to grow to over one hundred by the end of 2017. The growth has put it on a trajectory to have a substantial impact on the industry and the environment.
“In the near term, our focus is on rapidly rolling out the technology in the concrete industry,” concluded Wagner. “Concrete is the most abundant man-made material on earth. There is a lot of concrete out there, and there are a lot of concrete producers. Over the next few years, we’ll be working with our strategic partners to grow as fast as we can within this segment.”
CarbonCure is always on the cutting edge to further improve the environmental and economic performance of its technology. The company and its partners are fully committed to supporting the industry shift to green materials and building methods, and with CarbonCure technology at the forefront, that transition just became a whole lot easier.