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Program ID: Innovation Anthology #740
Program Date: 12/15/2015
Program Category: Alberta, Awards and Competitions, Climate Change, Energy, International

CCEMC Grand Challenge: Solidia Captures CO2 To Cure Cement

PROGRAM #740     INTERVIEW WITH TOM SCHULER

MP3:   9.1 MB
TIME:  9.59 MINUTES

INTRO:  Tom Schuler is President and CEO of Solidia Technologies.  The company based in New Jersey and is one of 24 companies with funding from Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation to advance their CO2 reducing technology as part of the CCEMC Grand Challenge competition. 


TOM SCHULER


CC:  TOM, COULD YOU TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT SOLIDIA TECHNOLOGIES?  HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN AROUND? 

TS:  The company has been in place for about five years.  We started hiring employees in 2010.  And we're a cement and concrete technology company.

And our focus is really to make it easy for the cement and concrete industries to adopt sustainable technologies, mostly by really leveraging the equipment that they have, the raw materials that they already have, and the processes that they already have to make it really easy for them to adopt a technology like this.

And then the key focus for us is, to get a green technology adopted, it's got to be really good business.  That really is the first priority.  Because the fact that it's sustainable, especially in a 2000 year old industry with lots of long standing traditions, it has to be better business for them than what they're doing today.  

So our focus has been on making a better product.  And it happens to sequester a heck of a lot of CO2. 

CC:  WELL I WAS QUITE SURPRISED TO LEARN HOW LARGE A FOOT PRINT THAT CONCRETE AND CEMENT HAVE.  COULD YOU EXPLAIN THAT A LITTLE BIT TO ME?

TS:  Yeah, I'd be glad to.  I think the cement industry, a surprise to many, is the second largest emitter of CO2 in the world. I know after power plants.  It’s a challenge that the industry is very much aware of and is working diligently to try and reduce.  But they're struggling to find those technologies that can really reduce the footprint in a meaningful way.

The technology that we've come up with not only affects the way they produce cement but allows them to do it in the same kiln that they're doing with the same raw materials.  We just change the formulation a little bit and we reduce the overall footprint for them by about 35percent.

And we've demonstrated that on a full scale kiln actually a couple of times.

It’s a problem that they are really interested in having solved, and it brings a product for their customers that actually does some things that the current Portland cement can't do.  And that's probably the most exciting thing for the concrete industry.

CC:  SO WHERE DOES THE CARBON DIOXIDE COME IN?

TS:  Well the carbon dioxide, anytime that you produce a tonne of cement, you'll produce about 800 kilos of CO2 to go along with it.  And so there's quite a bit generated, because not only the energy you use, but it also comes from   the limestone source that you're using to make the cement. 

So that's where the greatest amount comes from.

CC:  SO NOW YOU'RE ONE OF THE COMPANIES THAT THE CCEMC, THE CLIMATE CHANGE AND EMISSIONS MANAGEMENT CORPORATION, HAS FUNDED THROUGH THE GRAND CHALLENGE COMPETITION THAT IT HAD.  SO WHAT IS THE TECHNOLOGY THAT THEY WERE INTERESTED IN, IN TERMS OF DOING SOMETHING TO REDUCE THE CARBON IMPRINT?

TS:  Right.  The CCEMC program really has lined up perfectly with what we're trying to accomplish as a company and that is, going into a 2000 year old market that hasn't really had a new product in about 200 years and introducing a new technology to them.

As you can imagine, it requires a bit  work and a bit of convincing.

And so our whole goal over the last couple of years has been taking this technology and taking it out of the lab and into a commercial setting.

And so the interest I believe that CCEMC had was to make sure that not only that we could do that at a commercial scale in a commercially viable fashion, but also show the impact that it could have on Alberta.

And I think we've been able to do that.

And as you can imagine, we're comfortable enough with where we are that we're going to start moving into the Alberta market in the next couple of weeks.

CC:  WELL I UNDERSTAND THAT TECHNOLOGY THAT YOU'VE DEVELOPED ACTUALLY USES CO2 TO DO THE CURING OF THE CEMENT RATHER THAN USING WATER.  IS THAT CORRECT?

TS:  That's right.  We make a very unique cement.  Usually cement will react with water.  And that's kind of what holds everything together with concrete.  If you see a cement truck going by, it's got a little bit of cement going by, it's got a little bit of cement in it, but most of its concrete.  It's the binder that holds everything together.

Well, we use a little bit of water as well, but it doesn't react with our cement.  The only thing that will react with our cement is CO2.  And we actually turn the CO2 into encaptured and sequestered inside whatever we're making so it's basically permanently locked in place. 

Now it's something that the industry has really been trying to do for about 50 years, because they knew that CO2 curing actually offered some very interesting benefits to concrete from a long term durability standpoint.

We were able to crack the code and do it in a way that's commercially viable and that really gives the concrete some interesting performance characteristics. 

CC:  NOW DOES THAT MEAN THAT IN ORDER TO DEPLOY YOUR TECHNOLOGY THAT YOU HAVE TO CHANGE THE DESIGN OF CEMENT TRUCKS?

TS:  Well we're not at the point where we're working on cement trucks at this point.  We're really focused on a market that's  called the pre-cast market.  And that means pieces that can be made in an industrialized setting, in a plant.  For example pavers, blocks, things like that that can be done in a controlled setting because we do have to deliver the CO2 to the product.

Now we've got some technology longer term which will allow us to do what's called “cast in place.”   And that's where the concrete gets mixed up, delivered to the site, poured into the mold, and that is the cast in place market.  That's the cement trucks that you see. 

I think the challenge with today's cement trucks are, they've got about 35 minutes from the time they leave the plant to when they get to their job site because the reaction has already started. 

In our case, they can take as much time as they want to, because the water does not react with our cement. 

So it's a much more controlled process that we think, once we decide we do want to move to cast in place, we'll be able to have quite an impact on the Alberta market and the global market as well. 

CC:  SO YOU SAY THAT YOU ARE READY TO COME UP TO ALBERTA AND START WORKING ON THIS HERE.  WHAT EXACTLY WILL YOU BE DOING NOW?  WHAT'S INVOLVED IN THIS STAGE?

TS:  Well with the CCEMC grant in part what we've been doing is working  to make sure we could manufacture the cement at scale, which we've been able to do and also make sure we can work with a variety of applications to make sure that thte concrete product performs as expected.  So we've done the cement trial in two different continents.  We had trials with customers all over North America as well as all over Europe. 

We've even run a couple of processes already in Alberta and produced up to 6 tonnes of concrete that held up to 230 kilos of CO2.

So we've already proven that we can do this at scale.  The goal now is to find some commercial partners who really want to adopt the technology and introduce these products into the market for sale.

As you can imagine, not too many people, well just convert my whole process in the beginning.  So what we'll do is find a customer, or several customers hopefully, who will convert part of their capacity and we'll work with them to make sure we get that introduced into the market.

And we'll be doing that in 2016, and hopefully with the continued support of CCEMC.

CC:  HOW WILL YOU ACQUIRE YOUR CO2 THAT YOU NEED FOR THE PROCESS? 

TS:  We would love to be able to  take CO2 directly from a flue stack.  You know, from a biofuels plant, or even better, a local cement plant.  That's probably a little bit down the road.

So right now what we do we buy packaged CO2, industrial CO2.  It's basically the same stuff that goes into Coca-Cola or any other sparkling beverage.  And that even from a financial standpoint still works with our model.  So that's where we're going to start. 

Hopefully longer turn, we'll be able to go to taking it directly from flue gas.

CC:  WHAT IS THE BIG CHALLENGE FOR YOU IN THIS FINAL COMMERCIALIZATION OF YOUR PRODUCT?

TS:  I think the biggest challenge entering a market like this is that it's gigantic, and you have to know where to start.  I mean concrete is the second most used material on the planet, after water.  I mean, it’s ubiquitous.  It's everywhere.  It's in every country around the world.  So how do you pick the right application and the right place to start and more importantly, how do you gain access to that market?

We made a decision early on to to not go against the existing market, but to really engage the existing market and work with it.  e've gWot a great partnership with LaFarge Holesome, in order to help us not only to make the cement, but also help us into the market.

And LaFarge Holeson is present in Alberta both with a cement plant and with precast concrete plantS, and they've really been a critical part of our ability not only global market but also the Alberta market. 

But you can imagine with a small startup, dancing with a $30 billion company can be delicate at times but they've been fantastic in that they have not only been interested in the potential of for them, but they're also interested in the impact of the way startups think can help their ability to move faster and be more competitive in the marketplace.

CC:  SO WHAT HAS IT MEANT HAVING THIS FUNDING AND SUPPORT FROM THE CCEMC?

CC:  Well I think for a startup, funding like that is critical.  You'll hear many people say startups really don't fail because they run out of great ideas.  They typically fail because they run out of money and time.  And so for us, the CCEMC money has really been critical to supporting the working that we doing to make sure we can commercialize this technology in a really credible way for a market that needs to see it, touch it and feel it, before its going to buy. 

You know, a lot of companies can't survive that process because they don't have the financial support to do so.  And I think the CCEMC grant has really helped support us throughout that process.  And I think it's going to allow us to enter the market very quickly as a result. 

CC:  THANK YOU VERY MUCH, TOM,

TS:  It’s been my pleasure.  Thanks.

Tom Schuler is President and CEO of Solidia Technologies.
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