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.



   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.


   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

Always in Search for a Better Way to Build


   Here at Forming Solutions we believe in the sustainability of our insulated concrete forms because although we use expanded polystyrene, a petroleum based product, we use it in a responsible way. We do not support the use of single use petroleum products such as plastic bags, takeout containers, and disposable straws. Moreover, we believe that petroleum products should be used in a way that will last for hundreds of years and in its lifetime save fossil fuels by using less energy to heat and cool the building. However, some environmentalists believe that petroleum products should not be used under any circumstance. In our quest to be a more sustainable company, we aim to be informed about environmentally friendly products that could have potential in the building industry. As mentioned in the first part of this blog, Forming Solutions looks to companies like Ecovative to lead the way for the building industry. Ecovative has developed a number of mushroom foam products to replace petroleum products over the past ten years.

What is Mushroom Foam?

   Beneath the surface of the ground, fungi form a wide network of thin, root like fibers called mycelium. Mycelium can be grown and formed into just about any shape, and is said to be stronger, pound for pound, than concrete. Mycelium mushroom foam is also 100% organic and compostable.

   Ecovative mulches mycelium and agricultural waste products like cornhusks, cottonseeds and buckwheat hulls, then grows the material together in a mold to create their own version of mushroom foam called MycoFoam. On average it takes about a week to complete the growing process. Below is an example of a finished product.


Mushroom Foam Today and in the Future

   Mushroom foam can be used for everything from hand planes to lamp shades, but is most commonly used for packaging. Ecovative started to make EcoCradle® packaging in 2012. Dell, a leading technology company, has used mushroom foam packaging since 2014 for their laptops and computers. In addition, IKEA announced in 2016 that it is planning to make the transition to mushroom packaging. Although packaging seems to be the leading use of the product, mushroom foam could have potential in the building industry. Ecovative did not stop at EcoCradle, they also made Mushroom® Insulation for tiny homes out of their MycoFoam in 2013.

   The Mushroom® Insulation has been tested by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and has a R-value of 3.72. Unfortunately, this does not come close to the R- 23.5 of an Insulated Concrete Form. A vital aspect of a sustainable building is closing the thermal envelope to improve energy efficiency. Therefore, the mushroom foam insulation is not yet suitable for insulating net-zero energy structures. Nevertheless, the more that builders and consumers alike demand more efficient yet sustainable products, the sooner we will see them on the market.

   Although it looks like it will be a while before mushroom foam is ready to replace the expanded polystyrene, Forming Solutions is excited to hear that forward thinking companies are finding ways to begin to eliminate single use petroleum products. While EPS is not the ultimate solution, we firmly believe that is the best option currently available for building great structures that will last. In order to make a significant difference in energy consumption and the overall sustainability of where we live and work, our focus should be on using such precious materials for the things we want to last for a lifetime.

Written by Allison Devlin

Always in Search for a Better Way to Build


   Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. If Forming Solutions is trying to be as environmentally friendly as possible, why aren’t we distributing a block made with bio foam as opposed to the expanded polystyrene foam that is in the Insulated Concrete Forms. Is there such a product that exists for building?

Looking Forward

   The short answer is, no. There are no soy, algae, or mushroom based Insulated Concrete Forms available on the market. Just as consumers should demand innovation in the building industry, the building industry itself should seek to revolutionize. Right now, Forming Solutions does not have the capability to research and develop the kind of building materials we wish to distribute. However, we can be a part of perpetuating change in the building industry by sharing our practices and beliefs. 

   In our opinion, the quintessential building material does not exist yet. Our ideal building form would be a natural product that is sustainably attained, non biodegradable, free of chemicals, and can be 100% reused or recycled. It would also need to exhibit all of the same attributes of the current Insulated Concrete Forms, such as:

   The only difference between current ICFs and these “quintessential” standards is the fact that EPS is not inherently a sustainable product, meaning it could be used in ways that abuse the natural resource such as single use plastic and foam products. Nevertheless, the building form we use is made with EPS foam with no added chemicals. In addition, to ensure the excess foam from job sites is properly recycled, Forming Solutions collects the waste and delivers it to Marko Foam Inc. in Irvine, so none of our waste needs to end up in landfills.

   The building industry needs to find more efficient ways to do things using fewer natural resources. We need companies in this industry that are forward thinking, innovative, environmentally conscious, and that manufacture products here in America. Forming Solutions looks to companies like Ecovative, a progressive biomaterials company, to lead the way for the building industry. Ecovative has developed a number of mushroom foam products to replace petroleum products over the past ten years.

Written by Allison Devlin

2017 Event Recap

Happy New Year!
We had a great 2017! With a productive and busy year with little downtime, we wanted to highlight the events we were able to make it to this year. We attended many of our usual industry events but also squeezed in a few that peaked our personal interests.

Date: January 17th-19th
Event: World of Concrete
Location: Las Vegas

Since 1975, World of Concrete has been the only annual international event dedicated to the commercial concrete and masonry construction industries. At W.O.C., leading industry professionals showcase innovative products and new technologies, at indoor and outdoor exhibits. There are also exciting demonstrations and competitions for those that want some entertainment!

Date: April 27th
Event: Living Futures Institute, Film Showing of Building Below Zero
Location: Downtown Los Angeles

In the film Building Below Zero, actor and environmentalist Ted Danson narrates the examination of the Net Zero Plus Transformation: buildings that produce and store more energy than they consume, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and positively impacting global climate change.

Date: August 24th
Event:Net-Zero Conference, Energy + Water + Waste
Location: Commerce, CA

The Net Zero Conference, Energy + Water + Waste, is the nation’s largest event dedicated to net zero building design. Attendee registration has nearly doubled in each of its first three years, showing the building industry’s increasing interest in a net zero future. The conference was held at IBEW-NECA’s Net Zero Plus Electrical Training Institute. The facility, a net zero plus building, housed nearly 700 attendees during the Net Zero 2017 event.

Date: August 31st
Event: Proximity Slide Show and Book Signing, Hosted by the Rob Machado Foundation
Location: Patagonia, Cardiff by the Sea

Award winning filmmaker,Taylor Steele directed PROXIMITY, a visceral portrait of modern surfing. The film follows eight of the world’s best surfers – four legends and four rising stars – as they search for new waves and deeper understanding ofexotic destinations.

Date: September 30th-October 1st
Event: Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life- Deep Blue Event
Location: Doheny State Beach, Dana Point

At the Pacific Paddle Games, Sustainable Surf hosted a “Deep Blue Zone” that featured ECOBOARDS from Starboard, Infinity, NSP, Surftech and Earth Technologies, as well as demonstrated of the latest innovations in sustainable SUP board production and disposal.There wasonsite solar energy generation throughout the day.The P.P.G. also focused on eliminating plastic straws and providing recycling bins and water refill stations at this years event..

Date: November 2nd
Event: Save the Waves Film Festival
Location: Poler, Laguna Beach

Films Viewed:

Fish People– Directed by Keith Malloy
Island Earth– Directed by Cyrus Sutton
Mas Afuera – Directed by PatoMekis
Under an Arctic Sky– Directed by Chris Burkard.

Save the Waves curated a great selection of short films that articulated the importance of people and the ocean working together, and why we need to protect this scared relationship.

Date: December 14th
Event: Living Earth Systems Film Showing
Location: Blind Lady Ale House, San Diego

Living Earth Systems is a holistic design firm specializing in sustainable farm design. Their goal as a company is to provide both inspiration and education for implementing a lifestyle that is good for people and the earth.

We hope to see some friendly faces and some new ones at next year’s events. Always feel free to come up and say hello. Just look for our Forming Solutions hats! Cheers to a productive and exciting 2018 from us at Forming Solutions!

Written by: Allison Devlin

Myth-busting Basements with ICFs

With California’s real estate becoming scarce and overpriced, developers are finding alternative routes in achieving more square footage and value in their property. For a long time, the myth that California didn’t have a need for basements, was rooted in its history in tract home developments since WWII and the notion that because of the low impact of a minimal frost line, deeper embedded footings weren’t necessary along the coast. There have also been misconceptions regarding inferior strength of basements because of California’s seismic zone. Now that ICFs have been proven to exceed seismic requirements and offer unique benefits to basements, these myths of California not benefitting from basement construction are busted. 

High costs of property are now forcing developers to attain more value by digging down even though construction at ground level is thought to be cheaper and easier. With new innovative building products such as Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs), basements along the coast are becoming more enticing. Because ICFs exceed code requirements for seismic conditions,  the fear of earthquakes causing basements to collapse has faded away. Due to ICFs being constructed with a continuous concrete core and structural steel, they deliver higher strength values for deep foundations that allow for very little movement during an earthquake. Therefore, ICFs will grant homes the safest level of protection in structural strength below or above grade.

The expandable polystyrene (EPS) panels on both sides of the ICF forms help overcome many other issues usually found in basement construction, including waterproofing, mold and mildew, and allergens/infestation of bugs and rodents. In addition to those benefits, ICFs can deliver lower labor costs, faster production times, 4 hour fire ratings, higher insulation values, greater sound reduction values (STC ratings) and energy savings compared to conventional building. All these conditions create perfect spaces for recreational rooms such as offices, guest bedrooms or entertainment rooms which increase value and equity in a home by going underground and constructing subterranean basements out of ICFs.

Subterranean barrel room made out of FoxBlocks ICFs. Photo taken at the Hilliard Bruce Winery in Lompoc, CA.

Just because the frost line in coastal California is not very deep, it doesn’t mean basements aren’t a smart investment to make on lots in warmer climates. ICF basements in these climates also support indoor air quality. Assisted air exchangers such as Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERV) or Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRV) contribute in reduced respiratory issues of odors, better humidity levels, lower spore counts, cleaner air, and higher oxygen levels. Lighting design in basements can utilize alternative lighting such as CFL or LED, incorporating light wells and accommodating above grade windows to supply a welcome environment. With all these benefits considered, ICFs make subterranean structures very pleasant and comfortable rooms even though they are underground. 

Because of the many attributes, it’s clear why basements are now constantly being re-evaluated and incorporated into building on coastal developments. The benefits and values outweigh the costs when building basements, especially on high priced lots. Let’s find value in our investments buy making the most of them. Begin to think outside the box by beginning to think below the box. Let your next basement be built fast and built strong by using Insulated Concrete Forms.