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These startups are teaming up to decarbonize cement and concrete – Canary Media

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Cement and concrete are essential building blocks of modern society — and they’re both extremely carbon-intensive to produce. In recent years, startups across the country have begun devising novel ways of making low-carbon construction materials, including by using methods that mimic coral reefs, recycle industrial waste or replace fossil-fueled kilns with electricity.
Now, many of those companies are banding together to try to rapidly expand the market for low-carbon cement and concrete, Canary Media exclusively reports.
On Wednesday, 10 startups formally launched a first-of-its-kind initiative that aims to accelerate the adoption of cleaner building materials within the $1.8 trillion U.S. construction market. The Decarbonized Cement and Concrete Alliance (DC2) says it will advocate for policies that push the public sector in particular to buy low-carbon products for buildings and infrastructure projects.
Federal, state and local agencies purchase about half of all the concrete that’s poured and cast in the United States, making the government a crucial customer for newcomers looking to break into a centuries-old industry. Policies such as buy clean” initiatives aim to leverage the government’s vast purchasing power to spur the decarbonization of not just cement and concrete but also steel and iron, aluminum and other industrial materials.
If the climate crisis wasn’t an urgent thing, our companies could just scale over decades, in the way that traditional construction has developed in this country,” said Joe Hicken, vice president of policy for Sublime Systems, a founding DC2 member. We see an opportunity to jump-start the availability of these low-carbon construction materials in a timeframe that’s relevant to reduce emissions.”
Producing cement and concrete contributes around 8 percent of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions every year. About 40 percent of those emissions comes from fiery cement kilns that can get hotter than molten lava. The other 60 percent is the result of a chemical process. When limestone is heated to make cement, it breaks down into its constituent parts of calcium oxide and CO2, releasing planet-warming gases into the atmosphere.
Members of the new DC2 alliance all use differing ingredients and techniques to dramatically reduce, if not eliminate entirely, emissions from cement and concrete.
Sublime Systems, for instance, turns minerals into cement using an electrochemical process, not kilns. Last week, the Boston-based startup announced it had secured the site for its first commercial manufacturing facility in Holyoke, Massachusetts, at a property with hydropower resources. Another firm, Fortera, captures CO2 from existing cement facilities and uses it to make the mineral vaterite, which can partially replace traditional Portland cement in concrete. The company expects to bring its first demonstration plant online in Redding, California in the first quarter of this year.
The low-carbon cement companies had already been meeting informally in Washington, D.C. and beyond to discuss their common challenges before launching the alliance.
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We’re small fish,” said Connor Woodrich, Fortera’s director of government affairs. We don’t necessarily have the reach or capacity that traditional incumbent industry has that’s been established for a century.”
To build industrial-scale facilities, the startups need to raise millions of dollars in financing. However, potential lenders and investors aren’t likely to fork over the money until the startups secure major customers, which must be willing to place big orders for novel materials from first-of-a-kind plants. It’s a risk the DC2 alliance thinks the public sector should take on as the nation works to tackle climate change.
Unless you have the government taking an active role in commercialization, you’re not going to solve the key barrier that is stopping one of the most promising [climate] solutions we have from reaching the market,” said Simon Brandler, vice president of policy and public affairs for Brimstone. The California-based startup has developed a process to make industry-standard cement using basalt and other calcium-bearing silicate rocks in lieu of limestone.
In particular, the advocacy group is pushing for policy changes that would allow government agencies to sign advance market commitments.” These are binding agreements that guarantee a buyer for products once they’ve been successfully developed. In a recent report, the Department of Energy identified firm, long-term offtake commitments” as key to attracting risk-averse capital” to low-carbon cement projects. A similar approach is taking hold within the nascent realm of carbon dioxide removal, with the DOE and private corporations committing to buying” tons of CO2 from future projects.
Having these advance agreements in place, even before a plant is constructed, gives the [financial] underwriters confidence that the company will have a market for its products when the plant is complete,” Brandler said. Right now, there is no clear way for government to enter into these contracts under existing procurement traditions.”
Many DC2 member companies helped to craft proposed legislation that would, among other measures, authorize the Department of Transportation to make advance purchase commitments for low-carbon concrete. In December, U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Delaware) and Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) introduced the Concrete and Asphalt Innovation Act to help accelerate the commercialization of cleaner construction materials.
The startup alliance is also advocating for a federal production tax credit for low-carbon cement. Just as the tax credit helped to grow and mature the U.S. wind and solar energy industries, the companies say it could similarly de-risk investments in expensive emerging technologies for making building materials.
The all-in cost to produce [low-carbon cement] becomes reduced, so it can compete with solutions that have been on the market for decades,” Hicken said. The alliance’s ultimate goal, he added, is to really transform the way that this country thinks about the materials it uses to build the future of all our infrastructure.”

Maria Gallucci is a senior reporter at Canary Media. She covers emerging clean energy technologies and efforts to electrify transportation and decarbonize heavy industry.
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