Why Design Now? The Creation Of Carbon-Negative Materials

Fly ash is remediated and used as concrete aggregate.: ©Calera CorporationFly ash is remediated and used as concrete aggregate.: ©Calera Corporation Design has a big impact on the environment, but today, most responsible designers put the 'environment' in their plans and try to avoid leaving a footprint.  This is especially true in the design of new Materials, one of the categories featured in the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum's exhibit, Why Design Now? The National Design Triennial.

There are 27 new materials honored in the exhibit for their novelty, economy, and wise use of resources, including lack of ecological footprints.  Among those honored is a process invented by Stanford University scientist Brent Constantz, which not only doesn't harm the environment, but makes it healthier, by taking effluent carbon-dioxide from one process and using it to produce a carbon-negative concrete.

Demand for cement is expected to double by 2030, and as there is no effective replacement for it, the challenge for Brent Constantz was to design a better alternative for production. Normally, concrete is formed by binding cement with water and gravel or sand.  Creating cement is very energy-consuming and pollution producing; for every ton of cement manufactured, nearly a ton of carbon dioxide is produced.


The Calera Process: ©Calera CorporationThe Calera Process: ©Calera Corporation


Mimicking how corals make reefs by using seawater minerals to form carbonates, Constantz's company, Calera Corporation, takes the carbon dioxide emitted from existing power plants and channels it through seawater, converting it into carbonate minerals, which can then be used to make cement or an aggregate like concrete.

Calera has proved its method successful, by making it's aggregates in its pilot facility attached to a natural gas-power plant.  It aims to use more than 90 percent of the plant's carbon dioxide and turn it into cement.  In the future, it plans to demonstrate the same process at coal plants.

Why Design Now? For more efficient eco-friendly materials.


related reads: Why Design Now? Social Transformation In Medellìn Columbia and Why Design Now? An Energized MetaboliCity Is One Answer

 sources: National Design Triennial: Why Design Now?, Calera Corporation