Courtesy CarbonCure.
John Yanyshyn Courtesy CarbonCure.

Sometimes, the best solutions to the world’s biggest problems are also the simplest. That’s the case with new, eco-friendly concrete mixes, which are rapidly evolving to combat climate change.

Take Nova Scotia-based CarbonCure, a company that allows ready-mix concrete producers to inject carbon dioxide into their recipes, which simultaneously reduces their emissions footprint while increasing strength by as much as 20%. It does so by adding a “snow” of recycled industrial CO2 to the mix, which instantly mineralizes and is trapped, forever, inside the concrete. Due to the increased strength, ready-mix firms can use less cement – the largest source of carbon emissions in concrete – to reduce their carbon off-gassing even more, with no reduction in quality.

Why is that a big deal? Because while energy-efficient buildings have reduced environmental impacts once they’re built, the same can’t be said for the building process itself, including the manufacturing of construction materials. Indeed, the built environment now accounts for 40% of all CO2 emissions globally, with cement alone contributing 7%, or nearly one-third of all industrial emissions.

Put another way, these “upfront” or “embodied” emissions represent half of the CO2 footprint of buildings today. That means you can build the best, most energy-efficient home on the planet and still only address half the problem.

“It’s a blind spot within the construction industry,” says Robert Niven, CEO and founder of CarbonCure. “Everyone’s looking at renewable energy and energy efficiency, but if we don’t target embodied carbon, all the other work will be for naught.”

Robert Niven, CEO and founder of CarbonCure | Courtesy: CarbonCure
John Yanyshyn Robert Niven, CEO and founder of CarbonCure | Courtesy: CarbonCure

The good news is, CarbonCure and other firms such as Blue Planet, Solidia, CarbiCrete and HeidelbergCement Group are rapidly deploying solutions to make procuring and using eco-friendly concrete easier than ever for builders.

CarbonCure’s system can be installed at a ready-mix plant in a single day, with no cost or production stoppage for the plant itself. The firm, which is backed by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, now has 150 locations in the U.S. and Canada, and recently expanded into Asia.

Ready-mix companies pay CarbonCure to license the technology, but the reduction in cement offsets those fees, which means the overall price of the concrete remains the same. “It’s a win-win,” Niven says.

Meanwhile, cities and states are quickly moving to bolster the use of eco-friendly concrete. At the 2019 U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting, the group adopted a resolution to urge its 1,400 city members to source eco-friendly concrete in public projects.

“This is something that’s evolving extremely quickly,” Niven says. “Many of your readers may not have ever heard of this process before, but soon, it will just be the industry standard. The fact is, we don't have to compromise to affect climate change. You can get the same or better product, with a lower carbon footprint, for the same or better price.”

Sounds like a remarkably simple approach to a complex, global problem.

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