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

Women in Sustainable Architecture: Highlighting Two Outstanding Architects


With ICF influencing architects in sustainable design, homes and developments are now capable of bridging creative gaps while still achieving many benefits. Functional requirements, cost efficiency, and unique aesthetics all need to be present in today’s architectural design. The utilization of Insulated Concrete Forms and their innovative shapes and designs allows all of these elements to be achieved. Laurie C. Fisher Architects and Gaus Architects are two amazing firms Forming Solutions works with. Both firms have inspired the push for beauty in architecture that utilizes sustainable building materials and they both have inspired us to sit down and ask them a few questions about their processes.

Laurie C. Fisher is a multiple award winning architect not just in design but also in sustainability, receiving an ICF Builders Award for one of her recently completed projects in Poway, CA. Fisher’s aspirations in the architectural industry include designing buildings and the spaces within them that actually shape our lives and our world. She makes a great effort to incorporate people’s personal desires in worldly elegance and environmental concern into the design of their homes while keeping in mind the requirements of functionality.

Herta Gaus is an expert in high performance educational facilities and is well rounded in all aspects of design. Born with a passion for creating and improving spaces where people can flourish, she conveys her talent with professional credibility and effectiveness, while always maintaining concerns of ecological responsibility and social awareness. Awarded with many accolades and publications, Gaus presents a more serious aesthetic in architecture. Or as some might say, a “Pursuit of Truth” (In Pursuit of Truth | A Journal of Christian Scholarship. C.S. Lewis Foundation, 28 Sept. 2007. Web. 21 Feb. 2017). 

We sat down and discussed ideas about sustainable design, where they see the industry now and where they believe it may be going in the future with both of these outstanding architects. Because Gaus and Fisher are both LEED accredited architects, we wanted to hear their perspective on how this growth in alternative building materials has influenced them and their careers.

Forming Solutions: What style of architecture would you say is your forte?

Fisher: Frank Lloyd Wright is a great aspiration however I don’t have a “style” per say, I base all my designs on solid geometry, classic proportions, and a custom response to environment and user requirements. It is important that my designs are elegant and efficient; elements always solve more than one problem.

Gaus: Nature defines my aspirations, not having a particular style exactly, I’m usually influenced in each project by its uniqueness and requirement in its own style.

Forming Solutions: As we remember Zaha Hadid this last year, did she have any influence on you and why?

Fisher: Not really, other than the fact that she is the only woman to achieve world “ROCK-STARchitect” status.

Gaus: I greatly admired her courage in the architectural world.

Forming Solutions: How do you think the building industry has changed over the course of time you’ve been working in it and would you say it’s changing for the better?

Fisher: It has definitely become more complex, mainly in the areas of fire safety and energy/resource efficiency. While this increasing complexity requires more professional expertise to execute, it has resulted in much needed improvements in building safety/durability, and resource conservation.

Gaus: It is changing for the better I believe, but the delivery part is in a state of confusion which we hope will be sorted out.

Forming Solutions: What are your biggest challenges in the sustainable building industry and how do we overcome them?

Fisher: There needs to be more coordination between distributors, installers and architects. We architects need to specify products that are compliant, and we need the supporting documents that coordinate developers’ material selections and installment in the field. It is essential that vendors keep up with evolving relevant codes, and their applicable installation requirements.

Gaus: The tension between first-cost and life-cycle cost which could be overcome with more public awareness.

Forming Solutions: Do you think sustainability has a large demand in today’s designs?

Fisher: Yes, at least in California simply because it is mandated by law. Where it is not, cost is more important; typically, if sustainability is an option it will only be considered if cost/maintenance/durability requirements are met first. This can be challenging.

Gaus: Larger than 20 years ago but still not large enough.

Forming Solutions: Would you say sustainability is an interest you keep in mind for designs?

Fisher: Absolutely; from day one. Orientation for daylight and ventilation inform my initial design concept. Form, materials and systems are all selected with efficiency in mind – not only energy efficiency, but efficiency of design. Design elements that have no function are wasteful; buildings use an enormous amount of resources, and any aspect of them that does not serve sufficient functions has no business being in the design.

Gaus: Of course, it is an interest I try to influence into a majority of what I do.

Forming Solutions: What motivated or directed you into the idea of designing with ICF?

Fisher: It is a smart structural system for certain building types, especially here in Southern California. We have a large demand for masonry-type styles – “adobe”, Spanish, Mediterranean, etc. Fire safety and resources (there are no trees here – wood frame construction is not very logical) also make ICF a good choice.

Gaus:  The material properties; it’s simplicity, longevity, durability, practicality, insulation values, energy efficiency/cost, acoustics, affordability and  flexibility. ICF is very well rounded in that way.

Forming Solutions: Where do you see sustainable design five years from now and how do ICF’s play a role in that?

Fisher: I see net-zero buildings becoming the norm, and the high insulative value of ICF walls will make this a practical use. It adequately fulfills the State of California’s energy compliance in addition.

Gaus:  Because of the issues facing our planet, interest in sustainability will grow. ICF is well positioned as a building material for this evolution. Public awareness, comparative costs and qualified installers are the three factors slowing down a more universal use.

Forming Solutions: What do you see as the challenges for ICF?

Fisher: Wide openings, offsets and cantilevers are a challenge in a two-story structure. One story designs are more versatile, but two-stories become very boxy. If a client wants a two-story building with lots of large openings and offsets, then I would not recommend ICF. It is also structurally very heavy; this poses challenges in foundation design in unstable soils.

Gaus: Competitiveness in cost and speed of production compared to conventional building materials will always be the case.

Forming Solutions: What would you like to see in the future for the evolution in sustainable building?

Fisher: More education and participation in the general public. Generate EPS recyclability awareness and technical support in installation for the industry.

Gaus: That sustainability becomes a mainstream way of building in addition to setting a new standard.

Forming Solutions: Any thoughts on smart home integration with energy cost savings? Specifically, how can smart homes utilize greener building materials to better integrate with the automation features in fixtures to save even more on energy bills?

Fisher: Smart home systems that give feedback to the owner regarding usage always get people excited about sustainability – when they can actually see the benefit in real time. A baseline comparison to a less “green” home might be interesting.

Gaus: A comprehensive approach is required.  There are many possibilities.

Forming Solutions: How do you better educate or communicate to the public about the benefits in insulated concrete forms and green building?

Fisher: The home improvement tv shows are immensely popular, if not always realistic.

Gaus: That’s the question. The public is more influenced by mass media than a “lone idealist.”

Forming Solutions: Would you build your own home out of ICF’s? Why or why not?

Fisher: For two-story structures It would depend on site conditions; if the soil conditions are managed through engineering then yes.

Gaus: Yes I would, especially if built into a hillside which would be my preference.

Sustainability in the building industry is urging great change in the way we look at design whether it be socially, economically or environmentally. The overall consensus is that we need to start building for a better future and reduce resources that do not generate a renewable benefit. As Fisher and Gaus point out, we also need to bridge the gaps and connect builders with architects and ultimately guide the end user or home-owner down the path of green building. This in turn will raise awareness, educate and bring everyone benefits in their homes and commercial buildings. We have a need for building products that maintain our investments for a lifetime and here at Forming Solutions we believe the answer is Insulated Concrete Forms.


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%.


*provided by

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.


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.


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.