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One of the most polluting materials on the planet is approved for a zero-emission makeover

A concrete highrise with cantilvered apartments towers in the sky.
Image Credit: Ivan Aleksic/Unsplash

  • New negative emission product from startup Brimstone is approved as a drop-in for cement -- responsible for 8% of GHGs

  • Cement-based concrete is the second most widely used compound on the planet after water.

  • Using a calcium silicate rock instead of limestone, Brimstone's process creates byproducts that absorb CO2 making it a negative emission building material.

  • Now that it's approved for use -- Brimstone's tech could take a huge bite out of one of the biggest industrial sources of greenhouse gases.

Get excited, party people. Because, in a breakthrough for the building industry and a huge win for team Earth, a new, zero-emission, portland cement is now ready for prime time.

While most people likely consider a breakthrough in cement about as exciting as reading about paint drying, consider this, gentle reader, the cement industry accounts for around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That makes it one of the most polluting materials on the planet -- and it's among the most used.

Concrete is the most commonly used resource after water around the world and most concrete is made of portland cement.

Now, thanks to the Oakland, Calif.-based startup, Brimstone, cement can be made without emissions -- and with its new certification announced this month, Brimstone's cement can be used everywhere.

There've been a number of attempts to make portland cement replacements that have low, or no, carbon emissions, but regulatory issues and a lack of certification from the construction industry meant that they were never widely adopted.

The third-party certification of Brimstone's cement blows those obstacles away.

"At Brimstone, we believe decarbonizing cement relies on three essential principles: producing the exact same trusted material, at much lower carbon, and at equal or lower cost to other options,” said Cody Finke, co-founder and CEO of Brimstone. “Not only will our process slash carbon emissions and compete on price, we've now proven that it delivers the exact same material relied on by engineers and builders worldwide—and without forcing millions of construction workers to get retrained to use a new material."

Cement is traditionally made by heating limestone -- a rock that stores a lot of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. When the limestone is heated it releases the gas trapped in the rock, which is bad. The process is also very energy intensive, which means a lot of gas gets burned.

Brimstone's material uses calcium silicate rock, which cuts the carbon dioxide emissions from the source. And the production process creates magnesium compounds that can actually absorb CO2, making the process a source of carbon removal.

Finally, Brimstone's process also produces other materials (supplementary cementitious materials -- to be exact) that are also used in making concrete.

All of this adds up to a compelling solution that has some construction industry insiders already clamoring to use.

"Brimstone's ASTM-certified portland cement will allow the construction industry to source more sustainable concrete without compromising performance, cost, or regulatory compliance," said Marty Ozinga IV, the CEO of a cement supply company. "It's a true win-win situation, enabling modern construction to prioritize both technical performance and the climate."

While Brimstone's cement is pricier now than existing options, the company says that once it can reach an industrial scale, it'll be able to sell its materials at a cost competitive with existing cement.

“By delivering the exact same cement, we clear away the main obstacles to adoption, offering an opportunity to dramatically speed up the path to net-zero construction," said Brimstone's chief technology officer, Hugo Leandri. "The same buildings, bridges, and roads being built today can be built tomorrow without carbon."

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