Humbled by Green Cement

I enjoy learning about ideas that solve important problems in elegant ways. Especially when the solution solves a multitude of problems, and reduces negative effects overall.

Thus, I was inspired by the story that Dr. Brent Constantz told at the 2010 Biomimicry Education Summit. Brent is a Consulting professor at Stanford University, School of Earth Sciences, and a serial entrepreneur. His research into coral growth mechanisms has led to some very important inventions that he has productized. Here are 2 examples.

In the 1980s, Brent invented a biomineral medical cement for bone fixation and replacement. Instead of fixing bone fractures by inserting multiple pins to keep the broken bone in the proper place while the body slowly heals over the space of weeks, doctors now inject medical cement into the bone. The body then uses this cement to rebuild the bone in exactly the right way – with the appropriate channels for blood vessels and capillaries, the right shape of the end of the bone, and with higher bone density. It dramatically reduces the healing time for many types of bone injuries, while producing much better results. It now is used throughout the world.

What an amazing and valuable innovation.

Now he is doing it again.

In the 2007,  Brent founded Calera Corporation to develop “green cement”. Brent told us that instead of producing 500 pounds of  CO2 per ton of cement created, Calera’s process consumes 1200 pounds of CO2 per ton of cement created. Their process converts waste products such as CO2 from power plants smokestacks, fly ash, and waste water into the cement and aggregate needed to create a concrete that has superior properties to today’s Portland cement products.

Their concrete is stronger. It expands much less with temperature changes. It is pure white.

Their process dramatically reduces the need for mining, since it does not need the limestone used for Portland cement, nor the gravel used for aggregate. The water used by the process comes out cleaner than it was when it went in, and with fewer minerals so that it is less expensive to turn into fresh drinkable water.

And, their cement is carbon-NEGATIVE. Each ton produced consumes hundreds of pounds of CO2. Given that cement is one of the largest traded commodities in the world, this green cement has the potential to sequester a HUGE amount of carbon from power plants around the world.

I was humbled. I felt like a tiny mote of dust in God’s eye. It was a good moment.

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About davidsocha

In autumn 2010 after spending 19 years working in a variety of software organizations as a programmer, architect, manager, teacher, ScrumMaster, product designer, change agent, and agile coach, I finally listened to what everyone had been telling me I should be doing and joined the University of Washington Bothell as an Assistant Professor in Computing & Software Systems. My interests are how to create and maintain great teams, particularly those in software development organizations. I am most interested in distinctions that dramatically increase the effectiveness of teams, such as systems thinking, design thinking, biomimicry, and human centered design. I am a pragmatist, a collaborator, and an optimist.
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