If life gives you carbon, make Carbonaide

by Ana Lopez

Specific. Ubiquitous. A mainstay of the construction industry — over 10 billion cubic meters of concrete are used each year. And also responsible for up to 8% of CO2 emissions – one ton of ordinary Portland cement creates somewhere between 800 and 900 kilograms of CO2 emissions. Finnish start-up Carbonaide has just raised €1.8 million (~$1.9 million at the current exchange rate) in seed money to reduce carbon emissions from concrete, but not the construction industry.

“Our goal at Carbonaide is to create a more sustainable future with advanced technology that not only reduces carbon emissions from building materials such as concrete, but also captures more CO2 than they emit throughout their lifetime,” explains Tapio Vehmas, CEO of Carbonaide. “It is very natural that the built environment becomes a CO2 sinking because it is the largest volume of man-made material.

Carbonaide’s process binds carbon dioxide in precast concrete using an automated system at atmospheric pressure. By reducing the amount of cement needed and mineralizing CO2 in the concrete itself, Carbonaide believes it can halve the carbon dioxide emissions of traditional portland cement concrete. If it can introduce industrial waste products, for example industrial slag, green dregs and bio-ash into the process, it has the potential to produce concrete with a negative carbon footprint.

The next step for Carbonaide is to scale up the technology to a production line at the factory in Hollola, Finland, where this seed funding round comes into play.

“The aim of this funding round is to scale up the technology to an industrial-scale pilot plant. With the funding, we can implement the technology in a precast concrete production line that enables carbon curing as part of the industrial process,” says Vehmas. “Once we have done that, we know exactly the cost structure and required parameters for effective curing”, because it has to be right.

“Can we develop technical solutions that also make commercial sense? Low-carbon products must have a lower price than normal products, otherwise we cannot be sure that our technology will prevail,” says Vehmas.

Carbonaide has calculated that a fully operational chain can mineralize up to five tons of CO2 per day and increase production by a factor of 100 of its carbon negative concrete products, but it’s not just about making this type of concrete industrially scalable. Carbonaide should also include the naturally conservative construction industry.

“The technology has to fit perfectly, otherwise nothing will change,” says Vehmas. The industry is very conservative, but for good reason. We build structures that are meant to last, and by being conservative we can make sure they last into the future.” It’s easy to say that if something isn’t broken, it doesn’t need to be fixed, but Vehmas recognizes how the carbon footprint of concrete breaks the earth, and it does need to be fixed: “I want to see how a low-carbon industry can become a reality in highly conservative markets. If we can deliver on this, perhaps our generation will have some hope of paying our carbon debt for future generations.”

Importantly, Vehmas has the experience in the construction industry to take this quest to lower carbon emissions, and he believes the investment Carbonaide has raised confirms both its necessity and its viability.

“I also have over 20 years of experience working with concrete, which means I’ve been dealing with the industry throughout my adulthood. I actually live and breathe concrete. That helps enormously when introducing new technology in a very conservative industry,” says Vehmas. He added: “This investment is a sign of good progress for us as we have already received the support and support of players in the industry.”

Support for Carbonaide comes from Lakan Betoni and Vantaa Energy, who led the seed funding. The round was completed with public loans and in-kind contributions from Business Finland and other Finnish concrete companies and strategic investors.

The concrete and energy companies that support Carbonaide do so in more ways than just financially. They can also supply CO2 for Carbonaide’s processes, because believe it or not, while there’s too much carbon dioxide fizzing in the atmosphere, there’s a shortage of the trapped type we need for everything from concrete to soda.

If the Carbonaide pilot plant goes according to plan, Vehmas hopes it can have a planet-saving impact on the construction industry.

“After the pilot, our goal is to commercialize the technology. We want to make this process easy to implement by packaging the technology in a modular unit that is easy to install and allows easy implementation of the technology on site,” says Vehmas. “If everything goes as I dream, our technology will start a process where the built environment becomes a carbon sink in the future, not a source of mass emissions.”

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