This article is part of a regular series highlighting the innovative ways Scotiabank clients are doing their part to cut carbon emissions.
CarbonCure Technologies is a company on a mission to reduce carbon emissions 500 million tonnes a year by 2030 in the cement and concrete sector. That’s the equivalent of taking 100 million cars off the road for a year, and it’s a goal the company realizes it cannot reach alone.
“A lot of people don’t realize that concrete is the second most abundant material on the planet next to water and the most abundant man-made material,” says Christie Gamble, Senior Director of Sustainability at CarbonCure. “The main ingredient in concrete is cement and making cement is a carbon intensive process.”
In 2005, Rob Niven, an engineering graduate from McGill University, was fresh off attending a United Nations summit on climate change. He wondered how he could apply his studies in how introducing carbon dioxide, or CO2, into concrete could help reduce carbon emissions and accelerate world climate goals. Since the scientific community already understood that CO2 could be converted to calcium carbonate when injected into the concrete mix, Niven figured there had to be a way to help concrete producers respond to the demand for green building products.
Halifax-based CarbonCure Technologies, the company Niven founded in 2012, isn’t in the business of capturing carbon. Instead, it manufactures a suite of technologies that permanently store captured CO2 in concrete, and in the process strengthen it, thereby decreasing the amount of cement needed to make concrete.
Concrete is both vital to solving the infrastructure needs of today and the challenges of the future, and a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. It has been used for millennia and is the main product used to build sustainable homes, offices and hospitals, as well as bridges and roads in most of the world.
In 2020, 4.2 billion tonnes of cement were produced globally, which went into making 14 billion cubic metres of concrete, and the global cement and concrete industry had a market value that year of US$440 billion, data from the Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA) shows.
“There’s a reason why concrete is so abundant,” Gamble said. “It’s a great material for building infrastructure and buildings that will withstand the test of time and growing climate impacts.”
While concrete is a staple for the building industry, it is responsible for approximately 7% of global annual CO2 emissions. In comparison, road transport comprises about 10.2%, fuel and power for residential buildings 10.6%, and iron and steel production accounts for about 4%. Cement, which is the glue that binds the ingredients in concrete, is the carbon-intensive part of the process. Not only does it use fossil fuels to heat limestone (calcium carbonate) and clay, but the resulting chemical reaction also releases roughly 650 kilograms of CO2 for every tonne produced.
To date, CarbonCure says nearly 600 systems have been sold to concrete producers worldwide, resulting in the production of more than 15 million cubic metres of concrete, saving more than 165,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
It takes a village
“The answer to how we reach 500 million tonnes of carbon reductions a year by 2030 is a complex one that’s going to require mission alignment across various industries and businesses. We’ll also need full deployment of our portfolio of technologies across the globe,” Gamble said. “We will need to see accelerated urgency not only within the concrete industry but from a wide range of stakeholders.”
Stakeholders that include governments, which Gamble noted are responsible for procuring and purchasing about 40% of the world’s concrete; engineers; builders and even unrelated businesses. It’s a familiar message: The GCCA, which is committed to delivering net-zero concrete by 2050, also calls on a variety of stakeholders including innovators and ﬁnancial institutions to join them on “this critical journey.”
As a growing company whose core purpose is to reduce carbon emissions, CarbonCure looks to partner with like-minded companies in every aspect of its business, Gamble said. “We look for partners that have demonstrated they are aligned to our mission — companies that measure and reduce their own carbon footprints and purchase high-value carbon credits to offset any emissions they can’t reduce or to support the global mission to decarbonize hard-to-abate industries,” she noted.
“Scotiabank is proud to be working with CarbonCure to help the company achieve its mission of reducing carbon emissions in the cement and concrete industry,” Mark Tanner, Senior Client Relationship Manager, Scotiabank, said. “We have a long-standing relationship with CarbonCure. Early on in its lifecycle, we provided the company with operating credit, allowing it to grow. We continue to provide support as the company evolves, with a full suite of services including operating credit, FX and cash management.”
Scotiabank is committed to sustainable development and the transition to a low-carbon economy not only through reducing its own environmental footprint, but also by financing sustainable solutions, and helping drive the global conversation about climate change.
The answer to how we reach 500 million tonnes of carbon reductions a year by 2030 is a complex one that’s going to require mission alignment across various industries and businesses.
Government investment in carbon capture can also go a long way to helping the industry and CarbonCure reach their goals. The federal 2022 budget included a refundable investment tax credit, starting this year, for businesses in Canada that permanently store captured CO2.
In making the investment the government named CO2 mineralization in concrete as a key pathway for permanent carbon storage, highlighting that there are other avenues to permanently store and get rid of CO2 beyond traditional carbon capture and geological storage methods, Gamble said.
“Governments have the ability to ensure these types of solutions are at the forefront of the conversation to help accelerate the growth of various solutions, including but also beyond what CarbonCure is doing,” she said.
The company’s cutting-edge research and innovation have garnered global recognition. CarbonCure won the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE in 2021, 2020 North American Cleantech Company of the Year and Cleantech 100 Hall of Fame Company and was named to the 2022 CNBC Disruptor 50 List.
The Carbon XPRIZE, a global competition that takes place in three rounds over 54 months, challenges participants to develop breakthrough technologies to convert carbon dioxide emissions into usable products — with the ultimate goal of tackling climate change. In the final round, CarbonCure introduced its newest commercial technology focused on carbonating wastewater generated at concrete plants to produce concrete with a reduced water, cement and carbon intensity.
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