The Cement Industry: Paving its way Towards a Carbon Neutral Future

   It’s no secret that the cement industry has a dirty past, emitting nearly 5% of global CO2 emissions. Why is that? Because traditionally, in order to make cement you heat up limestone in a kiln which is powered by fossil fuels (primarily coal) and when you heat up limestone, it off- gases a lot of CO2. But that isn’t the whole story, what people might not realize is that after cement is manufactured, it naturally sequesters CO2 from the atmosphere in a process called “carbonation”. Since no two batches of cement are 100% identical, carbonation rates vary considerably with concrete properties, which also change depending on where in the world the materials originated. Yet on a global average, roughly a third of cement’s process emissions are re-absorbed within the first two years, and over the course of decades, this number rises to 48%. But the cement industry won’t settle for reduced carbon emission they want net-zero. In the past ten years Jeffery Rissman’s research, CarbonCure Technologies Inc., and DeCristofaro chief technologies officer of Solidia Technologies have collectively made huge advancements in carbon sequestrating, making the cement industry a solution instead of a problem in the fight against climate change.

   

   Accountability

   Jeffrey Rissman is the Industry Program Director and Head of Modeling at Energy Innovation. He leads modeling efforts for the firm’s Energy Policy Solutions to determine the policies that most effectively help meet climate and energy goals. In a Green Biz article, Rissman highlights some of the policies that could incentivize the cement industry to reach a carbon-negative future. One of the suggested policies was carbon pricing, such as a carbon tax that gives cement makers a financial incentive to install carbon capturing equipment and make other innovative upgrades to their facilities. Along that same vein, Rissman proposes government research and development support that drives down the cost of new technologies, new biofuels and techniques for electrical generation of the high temperatures used to heat the kiln in the cement-making process. Lastly, one of the most important things the cement industry lacks is industrial process emissions standards and energy efficiency standards. Holding the industry accountable for the emissions they emit will drive the industry to grow in new ways and ultimately make it more profitable.

   Process

   Although most of us would like industrial emitters to stop producing CO2 all together, the reality is that it will probably be a long time before we see an emission free industrial revolution. We can also be certain that this process will not happen overnight. So the question is how to we deal with this situation in the mean time? CarbonCure is a company leading a global movement to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment, using recycled CO2 to improve the manufacturing process of the world’s most abundant man-made material, concrete. CarbonCure uses CO2 sourced from industrial emitters as an ingredient in the concrete mixing process, creating a more sustainable masonry product with a lower carbon footprint. As mentioned above, concrete already sequesters CO2 naturally, but by adding it into the mix before it even has a chance to cure greatly increases the amount of CO2 it traps. Furthermore, the patented CarbonCure Technology is retrofitted into existing concrete plants in a single day, making the transition to a lower carbon footprint seamless for the industry.

How is it done?

   A computer takes care of executing the proportions of CO2 to cement ratio, insuring that each batch is consistent and has the optimal properties for making a sustainable product. Once the CO2 is injected into the wet concrete mix, the CO2 reacts with the calcium ions from the limestone in the cement mixture. As this process is happening the CO2 is chemically changing to calcium carbonate which becomes permanently embedded in the concrete. Since the CO2 was chemically changed into a mineral, this ensures that the CO2 will never be released back into the atmosphere. Moving forward, companies like CarbonCure should be an example of how an ancient process can be improved for modern times.

   Revised Recipe

   Much like CarbonCure, Solidia Technologies wanted to reduce the carbon footprint of the cement industry, and achieved that through a different approach. Solidia Technologies came up with a new recipe for cement that uses less limestone, and more clay lowering the amount of heat needed (less fossil fuels) to process the materials and amount of CO2 initially off-gassed. Solidia Technologies new cement also needs to sequester carbon in order to cure, greatly increasing the amount of carbon it captures throughout its lifecycle.

The Bigger Picture

   Accountability, innovation, and drive to make a more sustainable future is the current path of the cement industry. People build with concrete because it typically last two to three times longer than other common building materials, its versatile (can be used for foundations, walls, floors etc.), and has a greater thermal mass, meaning it is more energy efficient because of its ability to absorb and retain heat. For all of these reasons, concrete is one of the world’s most used building materials. This material is here to stay, but the process and recipe is evolving to make the future of our built environment, as well as our natural one, a better place to live in.

Written by Allison Devlin

Built to Last Over a Century

Sustainable. A cliché we hear too often, yet never enough in a meaningful way.

Wood is considered by many to be a sustainable building material. However, wood is deemed sustainable almost solely because it’s renewable. In reality, it’s not an ideal building material and certainly not meant to “sustain” itself for very long. Wood is susceptible to mold, rot, termites, fires and natural disasters. It almost never lives up to its true longevity due to its incapacity to cope with environmental factors. As a result, more natural resources are used to re-build, adding to the fifteen billion trees cut down annually.¹ On the other hand, ICF structures will last at least two hundred years with minimal maintenance.² In addition, ICF has a four-hour fire rating and is termite and pest resistant.³ If everyone in America chose to build with ICF, U.S. property owners would save over five billion dollars alone from avoiding termite damage.4

Additional Factors of Sustainability

Here at Forming Solutions, we understand that sustainability isn’t just about making things that last. There are several factors to consider when determining the sustainability of a product. For example, one should speculate energy efficiency, manufacturing process, installation, and the disposal of byproduct waste.

Energy Efficiency– ICF structures are inherently energy efficient due to their Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) core, which gives ICFs an R Value of 30-60 depending on the thickness of the core.5 This translates to property owners using 44% less energy to heat and 32% less energy to cool the interior of a structure verses a traditional stick-frame building.6

Manufacturing ProcessEPS it is made from styrene, a by-product of crude oil extraction. No oil is extracted solely for EPS production. See the graph below for a breakdown.7

Installation– We use ICF base, a company that connects the best concrete specialists, general contractors, architects, dealers, engineers, and installers, all specializing in ICF. Essentially, they make ICF dream teams specifically for your area, to make an ICF project an easy success. Keeping everything local reduces the need for transportation and limits carbon emissions, but it also helps build a trusted network with people in your own community.

Waste– Since ICF is made from high grade EPS, it is one hundred percent recyclable. We take the scrap foam and number six plastic webs from sites we have worked with and deliver it to Marko Foam in Irvine. Marko Foam then recycles our EPS into surfboard blanks.8 In short, we are recycling a waste product of crude oil.


¹ Worland, Justin. “Here’s How Many Trees Humans Cut Down Each Year.” Time. September 02, 2015. http://time.com/4019277/trees-humans-deforestation/.
² “Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF’s).” Builderswebsource.com. June 30, 2012. http://www.builderswebsource.com/techbriefs/about_icfs.htm.
³ “ICF Construction on Fire Resistant Homes.” Foxblocks.com. June 23, 2014. http://www.foxblocks.com/news/.
4 “The Real Facts about Termite Damage.” American Pests. January 21, 2015. https://www.americanpest.net/blog/post/the-real-facts-about-termite-damage.
5 “ICF Energy Efficiency .” ICF Base. https://www.icfbase.com/learn/icf-energy-efficiency/.
6 “ICF Facts.” ICF Homes. http://www.icfhomes.com/DYKpages/dykFACTS.htm.
7 “How Expanded Polystyrene is Manufactured.” http://www.rmax.com.au/manufacture.html.
8 “Marko Foam x Forming Solutions.” Forming Solutions. https://formingsolutionsicf.com/building-green/marko-foam-x-forming-solutions/.

 

Written by Allison Devlin

 

Overview of a 12,000 Square ft. Custom Home

This custom home utilizes some of the most unique architectural complexities we’ve seen yet! With the help of Forming Solutions tech support as well as FoxBlocks specialty forms, the #ormanresidence crew had a great experience utilizing ICFs to create a beautiful home that will bring them lasting benefits and a one-of-a-kind look.

Understanding the Value in R-Value

The Great Misconception 
R-Value is a very important part of building a home or commercial building. R-value is the measurement of thermal resistance and heat retention through a particular insulating material. Many building regulations require a minimum R-Value to be achieved but this ranges from region to region. Although the minimum R-Value is usually low, around an R-13, many builders and homeowners strive to achieve the highest R-Value possible. This is where the misconception about R-Value starts to become apparent.

What are the numbers?
Many people get caught up on the idea that the highest R-Value walls are the most superior. However, this is not the case. Yes, there is slightly more thermal retention in an R-100 wall versus an R-30 wall, but the percentage is actually miniscule. The graph below illustrates how there is a very apparent trend of diminishing returns when it comes to R-Values past R-30. What it breaks down to is this: after an achieved R-25, 96% of all possible heat reduction slowly begins to diminish. Therefore, as more and more insulation is added, the reduction decreases at a minute rate and never achieves 100%. To clarify, when doubling the insulation to an R-50, the reduction in the flow of heat is only reduced by 2%. Doubling the R-value again to an R-100, only achieves an increase of 1% more than R-50. This means that even quadrupling the amount of R-value in a wall would only reduce the heat transfer 3%.

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*provided by energyvanguard.com.

So what does this really mean?
This means that instead of looking for the wall system that offers the highest R-Value, we must look at the bigger picture. First, it is important to distinguish other elements of the walls we build. The difference between a wood framed wall with added insulation and an ICF wall for instance, is the benefits in the materials of the wall and the way it is constructed. With stick-framed walls, traditional 2X4 or 2X6 wood studs are framed in. Then standard roll in insulation is cut and added after the fact. With ICF walls the empty styrofoam form by itself provides a better insulation factor than most insulated wood framed walls. Once concrete and rebar are added, ICF block reach a minimum of R-40 in insulated value. Because of consolidated concrete core mass and the interlocking foam panels on both sides of the block, ICF’s are made to provide a “non-leaky”, air tight wall. Something that wood framing can never achieve. ICF’s are the highest quality in insulation due to the thermal heat displacement and resistance to moisture and unwanted drafts. ICF walls hold value in not only the finished product, but inherently in the materials used for the forms and in the way they are constructed.

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Working Together: A Perfect Marriage
It is also imperative to look at what you are marrying the wall system with. What kind of windows and doors are being used? What kind of roof and floor system is the best? Builders and homeowners must develop an adequate justification in more insulation by a cost and climate zone condition evaluation. Overall energy savings can be greatly increased by choosing a floor and roof system that marry with the walls of a home or building. For example, Fox Blocks ICF walls marry nicely with iSpan Composite Total-Joist floors. ICF walls combined with a composite floor system and continuous insulation in foam bucks for doors and windows create a tighter building envelope. Using high quality insulated glass for windows and radiant heating for HVAC will also be an energy saver.

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Answering the Equation
They key to true energy savings is a combination of all these things. The answer is not as simple as building walls with the maximum R-Value. Although R-Value is an important element in the walls of a home or commercial structure, building out of smart materials and doing a cost analysis of the benefits of ICF walls over traditional stick frame insulation is where we really see the solution. Overall, it is better to invest in an option that will be easy to use, save you time every step of the way and stand strong against natural disasters. ICF walls are the answer every time, and when married with other energy saving components you have the greenest, smartest and strongest home possible. Build for the future, Build Green with Forming Solutions.

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