Decarbonizing the Construction Sector with Startups

Gonzalo Galindo, Head of CEMEX Ventures

Gonzalo Galindo, Head of CEMEX Ventures

According to the World Green Building Council, buildings and infrastructure account for 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions. To combat climate change, the construction industry is tackling decarbonization. For example, Global investment in carbon capture and storage has been steadily increasing by the billions since 2019.

Currently, only 40% of construction waste is recycled or reused, but many startups are working to increase that percentage. To do so, it is imperative to find solutions in the construction sector that help minimize the amount of material going to landfills by diverting the construction, demolition, and land waste debris onto new projects.

There are many ways to decarbonize the construction sector. Building materials, such as concrete, will play an essential role and technologies such as carbon capture, using alternative fuels, and focusing on circular economy models will certainly reduce emissions. As a corporate investor, we have identified startups taking on this initiative and leveraging these emerging technologies to benefit the construction industry with sustainable solutions.

Carbon Capture and Utilization Technologies

The carbon capture, usage and storage process include capturing, transporting, transforming, using and/or storing greenhouse gas emissions from sources such as chemical plants. Once captured, used and stored. The process can remove up to 90% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) gasses emitted from fossil fuel stations that use coal, oil, or gas.

Contech startups that focus their efforts on carbon capture and utilization represent a hopeful future for the industry. One such startup is Carbon Clean. As an established global leader in industrial carbon capture solutions, Carbon Clean utilizes innovative decarbonization solutions and patented technologies to significantly reduce the costs and environmental impacts of CO2 separation. The company was awarded a ‘Technology Pioneer’ award by the World Economic Forum in 2015 and was featured in the ‘BGF 10 Green Tech to Watch’ list in The Sunday Times in 2020.

Carbon Upcycling Technologies (CUT) is another exciting startup changing the game. CEMEX Ventures´ most recent investment was made on this innovative startup that converts CO2 into low-carbon cement and concrete additives. CUT’s enhanced Supplementary Cementitious Materials (SCM) improve the compressive strength of concrete by 40%, allowing for a greater substitution of emission-intensive materials with CO2-embedded alternatives. CUT has an impressive track record, becoming the youngest CO2 utilization company to generate commercial revenue. The company is a Carbon XPRIZE Finalist.

Alternative Fuels

The decomposition of fossil fuels generates methane, a greenhouse gas up to 80 times more harmful to the environment than CO2.

Green initiatives often focus on finding ways to create energy with alternatives to traditional, carbon-intensive fuels. One such alternative is Hydrogen. The interest in hydrogen is because the waste product of burning hydrogen is water rather than the emissions associated with gas combustion. By focusing efforts on alternative fuels, companies ensure that their processes don’t continue to pollute the earth and speed up climate change.

"Carbon Upcycling Technologies (CUT) is  another exciting startup changing the game.  CEMEX Ventures´ most recent investment was  made on this innovative startup that converts  CO2 into low-carbon cement and concrete  additives"

HiiROC is a startup that emphasizes low-cost, zero-emission hydrogen production. The company uses a unique plasma process to produce hydrogen. This innovative technology enables the move to a ‘Hydrogen Economy.’ HiiROC produces clean hydrogen from biomethane, flare gas, and natural gas through its Thermal Plasma Electrolysis technology. This technology enables low-cost, zero-emission hydrogen production at a more competitive cost than its alternatives, but without the greenhouse gas emissions, and uses only one-fifth of the energy required by water electrolysis!

Likewise, another startup making the rounds with the use of alternative fuel is Synhelion. The startup developed solar energy that can easily replace fossil fuels as they are fully compatible with existing global infrastructure, and at a competitive cost. Their unique technology uses concentrated solar heat to turn CO2 into fuel. This revolutionary technology allowed for the creation of the world´s first ever solar clinker, a key material in the production of concrete.

Circular Economy Models

According to the European Commission, circular economy “aims to maintain the value of products, materials, and resources for as long as possible by returning them into the product cycle at the end of their use while minimizing waste generation.” The fewer products are discarded, and the fewer materials extracted, the better it is for the environment.

Co-processing is one way of circular economy and refers to the use of waste as raw materials or sources of energy to replace fossil fuels. Co-processing is a more efficient waste management solution than landfilling and contributes to a circular economy. Benefits of co-processing include reducing CO2 emissions, using alternative fuels (preferably with high biomass content) to counteract pollution, and decreasing the amount of waste in landfills.

Soil-Connect is another example of how circular economy works in the construction industry. The Tinder for professionals who need to dispose of or acquire soil. They developed a platform for excavators, contractors, builders, landscapers, and other building professionals who work with soil on a regular basis and helps connect those who have soil with those who need it. Their innovative digital marketplace provides construction professionals with a better, faster, and cheaper way to transport and acquire soil, aggregates, and other building materials. Voila, it’s a match!

Contech startups focusing on multiple efforts that help decarbonize concrete production and reduce or eliminate CO2 from all processes across the construction value chain are the future of the industry. Investment is building, as well as the need to act with climate change. Through carbon capture and utilization, integrating alternative fuels into the mix, and focusing on circular economy models, more startups are working to decarbonize the construction sector and we can´t wait to continue identifying and working with them. 

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