Founded in 2012 in Dartmouth, Canada by Robert Niven, CarbonCure is tackling the embodied carbon challenge: reducing the emissions from manufacturing, transportation, and installation of building materials. The company aims to transform concrete into a climate solution and reduce embodied carbon in the built world by 500 million tonnes annually by 2030. How are they doing this? CarbonCure injects a precise amount of captured carbon dioxide into concrete, where it undergoes a mineralization process and becomes embedded in the concrete. And, here’s the best part: this process increases concrete’s strength by up to 10%, reducing the required cement content without affecting other performance features (which therefore reduces costs). Translation for the non-cement-savvy readers: CarbonCure is good for concrete producers’ wallets and better for the climate. This means the technology has low barriers for adoption in the industry and can be scaled quickly. And as the product scales, so do the carbon savings. 2150 participated in a venture round alongside Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Microsoft, and the Amazon Climate Pledge Fund.
The construction and building sector generate 11% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (World Green Building Council). GHG emissions are created throughout the lifecycle of a building or infrastructure project, including the manufacturing of the materials, transportation, construction and demolition. CarbonCure tackles this ’embodied carbon’ challenge, as it is often called. To stay in line with the Paris Agreement, embodied carbon emissions must decrease by 65% by 2030 and be eliminated by 2040.
CarbonCure aims to reduce embodied carbon in the built environment by 500 million tonnes annually by 2030. CarbonCure’s technology allows the concrete industry to reduce its carbon footprint, whilst improving operations and reducing costs. This transforms a (currently) highly CO2 emitting material into a solution that works towards decarbonization.
CarbonCure injects a precise amount of captured carbon dioxide into concrete, where it undergoes a mineralization process. The carbon dioxide reacts with calcium ions in the cement to form the calcium carbonate mineral, which becomes embedded in the concrete. This process increases the concrete’s compressive strength by up to 10%, reducing cement density without affecting other performance features. As such, the impact is twofold: the cement captures carbon dioxide, and the cement becomes lighter, leading to fewer processing and transportation emissions.
2150 aims to identify the big challenges of the built world and select the winning technologies that will address them. The cement and concrete industry generates about 7–8% of global CO2 emissions, and the annual use of concrete, which is currently at 4.4 billion tons, keeps rising. In order to reduce the majority of CO2 emissions caused by cement, new technologies such as carbon capture, carbon curing, and/or 3D printing will have to be used.
CarbonCure’s technology is the most deployed carbon capture and uses technology globally, currently used at more than 300 concrete plants. The secret to their scale is that they do not try to replace concrete, but rather present a way for concrete makers to decrease costs while also reducing their CO2 footprint. By offering improvement opportunities to all existing cement factories, CarbonCure can scale quickly.
CarbonCure has a clear (and ambitious) mission to reduce 500 metric megatons (Mt) of CO2 annually by 2030, which is the equivalent of taking 100 million cars off the road every year (or 1% of global emissions). And they have a solid plan that outlines how they will get there. This plan is called “CarbonCure’s Path to the Decarbonization of Concrete”: a 25-slide presentation that lays out the why and how of the three products involved. (And for all the concrete enthusiasts out there: it’s available on their website!)
CarbonCure’s first product is a solution that, at the same time, enhances the quality of the concrete, reduces the production cost and also significantly reduces its carbon footprint. The company’s approach is to be collaborative with the sector: their technology can be retrofitted into concrete producer’s existing operations. Supply chains do not have to be reimagined and industry regulation does not need to change to implement the technology. This means the CarbonCure product can be scaled quickly, now. And as the product scales, so do the carbon savings. The solution is already integrated at close to 300 plants and represents 140 Mt of CO2 annually within CarbonCure’s overall mission.
The second technology applies to Reclaimed Water and is still in development, but will enable the majority of the mission: 290 Mt of CO2 per year. This application will put the water and solid waste from concrete production into good use by injecting CO2 into a concrete plant’s reclaimer system, creating a nano-scale solid that can be re-incorporated into concrete mixes. The benefits are simple to understand: fewer virgin materials (freshwater and cement) will be needed. The third and final tech application (also in development) is Recycled Aggregate, which can achieve an annual CO2 reduction of 95 Mt. After a building is demolished or when there’s concrete leftover from a project, this concrete is produced into an aggregate. As this concrete aggregate is weaker than natural (virgin) aggregates, it commonly goes into road base materials or landfills. CarbonCure technology mineralizes CO2 to improve the strength of recycled concrete aggregate so that it can replace virgin aggregates in new concrete production.
To execute their plan, CarbonCure has assembled an experienced team fit for the challenge, led by Founder and CEO Robert Niven. Robert has a background in Environmental Engineering and Chemistry, with previous experience as a carbon management consultant for the cement and concrete sectors. An Industry Advisory Council has been formed with leading (former) executives from concrete and building materials companies, including U.S. Concrete and LafargeHolcim.