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By Josh Molina
September 17, 2018
Concrete is everywhere—and it will outlive people on the planet. But while many people might connote concrete with a stale, ubiquitous material, it turns out that making the common building item involves massive carbon emissions.
Cement, a main ingredient of concrete, contributes about seven percent of the world’s industrial energy use, according to the International Energy Agency.
Canadian company CarbonCure is working to change all that. It has developed a technology that uses carbon dioxide waste to strengthen concrete. More importantly, though, it removes the dangerous greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.
CarbonCure is leading the technological boom to reduce concrete carbon emissions.
“Concrete producers are excited about CarbonCure because it is a retrofit technology. It actually fits in with existing plants and allows them to keep making concrete as though they always had, yet at the same time, it offers real transformative change to the built environment,” said Robert Niven, CEO and Founder of CarbonCure technologies.
The CarbonCure process uses carbon dioxide provided by refineries. The carbon dioxide is then delivered to the concrete producer’s site and injected into the production process, using CarbonCure technology.
The rise of urbanization is expected to fuel global cement production by as much as 23 percent by 2050 while direct carbon emissions from the cement industry are expected to rise by four percent globally by 2050, according to the IEA.
Christine Gamble, director of sustainability at CarbonCure, explained to Jobsite how the company works and talked about its plans for the future.
“Concrete is a vital material for the development of resilient, sustainable buildings and infrastructure project,” Gamble explains. “Concrete enables tall vertical construction, the backbone of modern cities.”
The material is durable and resilient. Builders and engineers believe there’s nothing more sustainable when constructing a building to withstand the test of time than concrete.
CarbonCure, Gamble further explains, allows designers and developers to capitalize on the unique qualities of concrete they rely on: strength, durability, sound-reduction and thermal insulation—but with a reduced carbon footprint.
The company’s efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of concrete in the built environment is setting the trend.
Other companies are following.
CarbonCure manufactures a technology that is installed in concrete plants. The technology injects recycled carbon dioxide into concrete during its manufacturing in order to create stronger, greener concrete.
The main ingredient in cement is limestone, which is mined from a quarry. The limestone is heated to 1,500 degrees. When heated, the parts split and the calcium oxide is refined into cement. What remains, the carbon dioxide, expands into the air and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
CarbonCure, however, uses its technology to capture carbon dioxide and inject it back into the cement. When mixed with water, it reforms into a stronger, permanent version of limestone, making the concrete more durable and longer lasting, while removing emissions from the environment.
“This means that the CO2 will never enter the atmosphere because it no longer exists,” Gamble says. “More importantly, this process helps to improve the compressive strength of concrete, allowing concrete producers to optimize their manufacturing process and reduce their cement content.”
Gamble adds that by reducing cement content, concrete producers are able to further reduce their carbon footprint and offset the cost of the technology.
“Ultimately, the concrete delivered to construction projects has a reduced carbon footprint, without compromising on quality or price.”
The company was formed in 2007 by Niven, who had just graduated with a masters degree in Engineering from McGill University. He studied the benefits of introducing carbon dioxide to fresh concrete.
Coincidentally, that same year, Niven attended a United Nations summit on Climate Change. That’s where he was exposed to the global demand for solutions to reduce carbon emissions.
He formed the company CarbonCure and began a quest to develop a scalable technology that could provide economic advantages to its customers while reducing carbon emissions.
CarbonCure technology is currently installed in more than 100 concrete plants across Canada and the US. The technology has slashed more than 30 million pounds of carbon dioxide from concrete construction. The company hopes to one reduce up to 700 megatons of CO2 emissions every year.
“Together we can make a concrete that heals the planet, and not harms it,” Niven said.
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