News / USA

California Company's 'Green' Cement Captures CO2

California Company's 'Green' Cement Captures CO2
California Company's 'Green' Cement Captures CO2
Shelley Schlender

Cement is a major component of concrete, the world's most widely used man-made material, an integral part of roads, bridges and buildings. But making cement requires heating limestone and other materials to very high temperatures, a process that releases into the atmosphere large amount of carbon dioxide, or CO2, a leading cause of global warming.

Brent Constantz is working to fix that problem with an environmentally-friendly cement that actually captures CO2 and locks it away.

A clean approach to making a dirty product

Calera's aggregate product is made in a variety of sizes
Calera's aggregate product is made in a variety of sizes

At his California company, Calera, scientists mix air and water to create the cement powder and aggregate pebbles that are the basic ingredients of concrete. But while traditional cement, called Portland cement, adds CO2 to the atmosphere, Calera's green cement takes the greenhouse gas out of the air - a lot of it. For every unit of carbon that Portland cement adds to the air, Brent Constantz says his green cement removes three units. "The more concrete you pour, the more CO2 you take out of the environment. So the way to mitigate the carbon problem is to pour more concrete!" But only, Constantz adds, if it's his concrete.

Conventional cement is the world's third-largest industrial contributor of CO2, mainly due to the high-temperature kilns required to make traditional cement pastes. Calera produces cement without high heat. Constantz explains the patented process mimics the way that nature grows the hard, durable materials in teeth, bone and sea shells. "It's a complicated, interesting, beautiful biologic process," he says, "that produces fantastic structures like a chambered nautilus shell or the human hip and the greater trochanter in the top of our femur, which are elaborate biologic structures made out of mineral."

Minerals in briny water attach to CO2 molecules in the air to create a limestone-like material
Minerals in briny water attach to CO2 molecules in the air to create a limestone-like material

Calera's technology targets the CO2 in the smoky air that's belched from the smokestacks of large industrial sites, such as coal-fired power plants. To capture the gas, Calera mixes the air with briny, brackish seawater, oil field wastewater or other salty waters. This causes minerals in the water to bond with CO2 and then rain out as particles of synthetic limestone. As a bonus, the briny water becomes easier to turn into drinkable water.

Proving its process in the real world

Calera's been doing all this in its labs. Now, it's gearing up to do it on a grander scale, near California's largest power plant, at Moss Landing, on the Pacific coast near San Francisco. Giant turbines at the Dynegy company's gas-fired plant generate electric power for roughly 2 million people.

The first segment of the 3 meter wide pipe that will pull CO2-rich air from Dynegy's smokestack and deliver it 2.5 kilometers away to Calera's plant
The first segment of the 3 meter wide pipe that will pull CO2-rich air from Dynegy's smokestack and deliver it 2.5 kilometers away to Calera's plant

In January, Calera began drawing one percent of the Dynegy stack gas through a massive pipe, across the street to its green cement plant. Calera hopes to capture 80 percent of the smokestack CO2, and sequester it in its patented cement mixture. If it works, says Moss Landing Power Plant manager Jim Dodson, the technology could be a game-changer for carbon sequestration efforts. He calls the Calera process "probably one of the best carbon-capture processes out there that we know of today."
 
Conventional carbon-capture technologies, such as chemical scrubbing, can capture as much as 90 percent of the CO2 from smokestack gas. However, they also use a lot of the energy generated by the plant, almost doubling the cost of the power for consumers.

The U.S. Department of Energy is looking for new carbon-capture technologies that can reduce this so-called parasitic load on power production below 30 percent. Calera's Brent Constantz says his company's relatively low-cost cement-making process can surpass that, cutting a plant's energy drain in half, to less than 15 percent. And he says adding in the potential profits from Calera's green cement would completely offset the financial loss of reduced power plant output. "Our costs of goods are lower than Portland cement because we don't have to burn coal or build a quarry and quarry limestone," he explains, "so our capital costs are quite a bit lower." He estimates using Calera's technology would effectively cut the parasitic load to zero.

Next step: convincing the concrete industry

But many experts in the traditional concrete industry - like Steve Regis of Cal-Portland Cement - are skeptical that Calera can make an affordable cement. "I simply don't believe it, and I've seen no evidence otherwise," he says.

Calera's cement product separates from the water in large holding tanks
Calera's cement product separates from the water in large holding tanks

While he doubts many of Calera's claims, Regis says he wants more carbon capture, and the concrete industry is eager to inspect Calera's products. "We can run tests that look at how hard it is, how durable it is, we can look at all that then run several tests out in less than 6 months." Brent Constantz says his products have already passed those tests, and he promises that the company will share that information when the time is right.

Constantz hopes that traditional concrete makers will team up, first, by blending Calera's green cement product with traditional Portland cement. The goal will be to fight global warming by capturing carbon in concrete . . . so much that it would help reverse man-made climate change.

"We can actively sequester about 16 billion tons of CO2 a year in a profitable, sustainable, ongoing way for our children, our great grandchildren, for centuries to come and deal literally with most of the carbon problem," he insists. The key, he says, is to start tackling that problem – right now.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More