Our ambition with 2150 is to identify the big problems of our built world and to identify technologies that can help address them. No problem is bigger for our cities -or our planet - than our global addiction to cement and concrete.
Cement is the grey powder we each know, concrete is the slushy material we see being poured at construction sites, which uses cement as one of its primary inputs. Humanity is pouring 4.4 billion tons of concrete each year and rising. The cement and concrete industry generates a staggering 7–8% of world CO2 emissions. If the industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world. In 2015, it generated around 2.8bn tonnes of CO2, a greater share than any country other than China or the US. It also consumes massive amounts of water “sucking up almost a 10th of the world’s industrial water use” and outputting a sludge industrial waste by-product.
On a global scale, cement is the one industry that has the scale and leverage to have the required level of impact needed to lower our rising CO2 emissions.
An analysis by McKinsey on the decarbonization of cement lays out an ambitious vision to reduce CO2 emissions by 75% by 2050. Outside of minimum impacts from more efficient energy use or alternative fuels, the majority (60%) of this CO2 reduction would have to come from new technologies like carbon capture, use and storage, carbon-cured concrete or 3-D printing of homes.
Having grasped the urgent need to identify lower-carbon alternatives, we did a canvas of technologies and startups. Some were still in science labs, others were beginning to be commercialised but still price prohibitive as a cement replacement, some, like cross-laminated timber, are already being deployed, and others like direct CO2 capture at cement plants are too CAPEX intensive.
Through this process we reached out to Carbon Cure, a company we had admiringly been tracking for some time. Carbon Cure is commercialising the technology its founder, Robert Niven identified during his Masters thesis at McGill. It has developed a process through which just the right amount of CO2 is injected into concrete as it is being mixed. The CO2 binds with the concrete and becomes Calcium Carbonate removing the CO2 forever. Secondly this binding makes the concrete stronger through nano-scale level interactions, thus requiring less cement (the bad stuff) as an input, per yard of concrete. It is the most deployed carbon capture and use technology in the world, now being used across over 300 concrete plants worldwide. And most critically, it does not try to replace concrete, but rather sells its technology to concrete makers as a way to improve their economics, while reducing the CO2 footprint of its product.
Finally the whole company is aligned around an ambitious mission to reduce the CO2 footprint of concrete by 500 MtCO2 per year by 2030. That is the equivalent of taking out 100 million ICE cars off the road every year. It is also one of the finalists for the Carbon X Prize. Carbon Cure was selected as one of the four suppliers of carbon offsets for Stripe’s recent high profile offset purchase and Shopify’s carbon offset fund.
From our first call with Rob, we knew that we wanted to be part of the Carbon Cure story, and we were thankful to be invited to join an investment round into the company led by Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund and existing investor, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Christian Hernandez joined the Carbon Cure board as an Observer, and the whole 2150 team has started leveraging our network to help accelerate the deployment of Carbon Cure’s technology in new regions.
In the years to come, we look forward to pointing at iconic buildings, from Linkedin’s headquarters (240,000 lbs CO2 saved) to the Georgia Aquarium (329,000 lbs) to local schools and office buildings and know that within those walls CO2 was mitigated and stored…forever.
2150 is a venture capital firm investing in technology companies that seek to sustainably reimagine and reshape the urban environment. 2150’s investment thesis focuses on major unsolved problems across what it calls the ‘Urban Stack’, which comprises every element of the built environment, from the way our cities are designed, constructed and powered, to the way people live, work and are cared for. Find out more at www.2150.vc