The US Department of Energy bets $2 million on a new carbon capture strategy that transforms ordinary buildings into CO2-devouring demons.

Carbon Capture Pipeline Rendered Obsolete By Carbon-Sucking Concrete

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Fossil energy stakeholders who promote carbon capture and underground storage to reduce power plant emissions just can’t take “no” for an answer, but the hits just keep on coming. Their vision of entwining the US in a new network of carbon pipelines seems to be fading out of grasp, and new forms of carbon capture are emerging. In the latest development, the 33 billion tons-per-year global concrete industry is heading for a carbon-negative makeover.

Carbon Capture & Sequestration On The Ropes

Now that the global climate is in crash mode, along with biodiversity and nature itself, it’s pretty obvious that the wheels have fallen off the business-as-usual mechanisms for powering the modern industrial economy. Prying it loose from the grip of coal, oil, and natural gas has become an existential priority.

Carbon capture at fossil-sourced power plants adds nothing to the effort, other than to throw a veneer of respectability over the fossil energy extraction business. More to the point, the cost of renewables, energy storage, green hydrogen, and other alternatives continues to fall. Investing in expensive new carbon-capturing systems at power plants is beginning to lose its luster.

The pipeline issue is another sticky wicket. The idea of capturing carbon at a power plant and piping it to another location for underground storage was tried, and was failed, after the Obama administration pulled the plug on the ill-fated FutureGen project in 2015.

More recently, pipeline proposals have run afoul of local landowners, tribal stakeholders, and environmental organizations. According to figures compiled by the Global CCS Institute, the US already has about 6,500 kilometers (about 4,039 miles) of active C02 pipeline capacity under its belt, and nobody particularly wants to see any more added to the pile unless they are a pipeline developer.

CO2 pipeline opposition has also spread beyond fossil power plants to impact pipeline proposals for other industries, too. Just yesterday, the Chicago Tribune reported that a Nebraska company called Navigator CO2 has apparently put its plans for a multi-state, 1,350-mile pipeline on hold after facing citizen and regulatory opposition in South Dakota, Illinois, and Nebraska. The pipeline will serve biofuel and fertilizer industries in the Midwest, if it ever gets built.

More & Better Carbon Capture Solutions

Capturing and recycling carbon at or near the point of production has been emerging as an alternative technology. The growing list of synthetic materials using captured carbon includes vodka, perfumes, fabric, and PET plastic, among others.

That’s all well and good, except for the 800-pound marketing elephant in the room. Carbon capture is itself an energy intensive operation that interferes with overall power plant efficiency. Manufacturers that depend on fossil-sourced power plants for their CO2 supply could find themselves at a disadvantage if another emerging  technology catches on, namely, direct air capture technology.

As the name suggests, direct air capture systems draw carbon dioxide from the ambient air. They are not tied to any particular carbon-producing site, let alone one that burns fossil fuels.

On the down side, the jury is still out on direct air capture, as critics are increasingly concerned that fossil energy stakeholders could deploy the technology to acquire carbon credits that enable them to continue their extraction operations.

And Now For Something Completely Different

The time is ripe for a new approach to carbon capture, and that’s where the 33 billion tons-per-year global concrete industry comes in.

Concrete production is one of the carbon-intensive industries being eyeballed for conventional carbon capture systems, but innovators in the low carbon concrete field have come up with something better.

Last July CleanTechnica took note of C-Crete Technologies, a US startup that has developed a low-carbon, pourable concrete. As an added bonus, C-Crete captures and mineralize airborne CO2 as it sets. Think of C-Crete as a tree in the form of concrete, and you’re on the right track.

The latest news from C-Crete is a $2 million funding award from the US Department of Energy, aimed at commercializing the company’s concrete as a carbon-negative product.

Saving the planet was not the only factor at work in the Energy Department award. The potential for coming up with a more efficient carbon capture system a more economical alternative to conventional concrete are additional bonuses.

“The CO2 incorporated into the product — whether captured from the air as the concrete cures or from industrial point sources — could be used in a diluted form, eliminating the costly step of separating it from other gases,” C-Crete explains.

“C-Crete’s binder produces almost no CO2 in its manufacturing and continues to absorb it from the air over time,”  the company states. “Its scalability and cost-parity with conventional cement make it a viable alternative to ordinary Portland cement — a notorious contributor to global CO2 emissions.”

“Once mineralized in the concrete, the diluted CO2 would make the new material stronger, tougher and more durable than conventional concrete,” the company adds.

Here Comes Texas — Again

C-Crete lists its contact address in California, but the company first caught the eye of the Energy Department in 2019 when its home base was Texas, where decarbonization innovators have been coming in hot despite the state’s ongoing reputation as a fossil fuel haven.

In January of 2019, C-Crete hooked up with the University of Virginia School of Engineering for an award of $1.18 million from the Energy Department’s ARPA-E funding office for cutting edge energy innovations.

“The project will focus on developing novel calcium silicate formulations generated from waste materials such as fly ash from coal-fired power plants,” UVA explained. “These materials would then be cured under carefully controlled conditions to generate high-strength materials that are much more durable than conventional cements.”

“The products will have a lot in common with ancient Roman cements that have lasted many millennia and were generated without the large amounts of coal used to make cement today,” they added.

ARPA-E has also been looking to apply the heat resisting capablity of C-Crete’s non-cement in other areas. In 2019, it awarded $772,400 to the company to deploy its new materials technology for the development of “next generation cementitious coating materials to extend the lifetime of key infrastructures subject to extreme conditions such as nuclear power plants.” Another 2019 award of $1.5 million was earmarked for a new fluid based on 2-D boron nitride nanoparticles, aimed at replacing conventional mineral oil transformer insulators.

When Is Cement Not Cement?

For the record, cement is not the same thing as concrete. Concrete is a mixed material made mostly of water, sand, and gravel, with cement contributing about 10% to bind the whole thing together. C-Crete renders conventional cement out of the equation to achieve a material that can be poured like concrete.

“At the core of C-Crete’s innovation lies its patented high-performance, cement-free binder technology that uses different local materials as feedstocks,” C-Crete explains.

“We are committed to crafting a cement-free, ready-mix, carbon-negative concrete that doesn’t just mitigate carbon emissions but actively contributes to reversing climate change,” adds C-Crete founder and president Rouzbeh Savary, Ph.D. “Our aim is nothing short of revolutionizing this hard-to-abate, carbon-heavy sector of the construction industry.”

Also for the record, C-Crete’s new carbon-negative concrete could be applied to fossil energy infrastructure as well as buildings. For now, though the company is highlighting its activities in the building sector, including a recent commercial site that deployed an 80-ton pour of C-Crete’s concrete for the foundation, shear walls, and flooring.

Where’s Congress?

Of course, no news about decarbonizing the global economy would be complete without a mention of Republican leadership in Congress, or lack thereof.

At a time when the US has been called to help its allies — Ukraine and Israel — the Republican-led House of Representatives has been undercutting the very American exceptionalism they purport to champion.

The sight of the Republican House majority floundering about leaderless like so many flopping fish in suits for the first time in US history is quite the spectacle.

Meanwhile, the razor-slim Democratic majority in the Senate has been handcuffed by rules that empower individual Senators to gum up the entire works over unrelated policy disputes, and Republicans have been taking full advantage.

Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama has been holding up hundreds of military promotions over the Pentagon’s medical travel reimbursement policy, while Republican Senators Rand Paul (Kentucky), JD Vance (Ohio), and Ted Cruz (Texas) have shut down key State Department appointments, leaving the agency adrift in Israel, Egypt, Oman, and Kuwait among others.

Republican Senators have also slammed the door on filling top positions in counterterrorism, human rights, and the  US Agency for International Development, notes Foreign Policy reporter Robbie Gramer. He attributes the situation to “the ‘new normal’ practice of Republican senators placing sweeping holds on all nominees for different agencies,” in effect holding them hostage for concessions on other matters.

That’s just a few examples of the apparent Republican attempt to finish what the Civil War supposedly finished almost 160 years ago. If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Follow me @tinamcasey on Bluesky, Threads, Post, LinkedIn, and Spoutible.

Photo caption: ““Around 80 tons of C-Crete’s cement-free concrete was recently poured in the foundations, shear walls and floor slab of a commercial building and more projects are underway,” courtesy of C-Crete via PR

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3152 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey