Innovative tech removes carbon footprint in cement
The scale of the climate crisis demands that we approach it with boldness and creativity, and entrepreneurs are stepping up to the plate. Today’s climate tech pioneers are developing innovative, advanced solutions that have the potential to make a real difference in stabilizing the climate. In this article, we look at how climate tech entrepreneurs are addressing barriers to progress and creating solutions and momentum to address climate change. Please note that Environmental Defense Fund does not specifically endorse the products, companies or theories mentioned here. However, we do want to foster this vital conversation.
Clean tech investment is booming again, which means a win for the environment and environmental innovation startups. In the last eight months, we’ve seen funding from some very big names: Amazon launched The Climate Pledge Fund, a $2 billion investment program to support the development of sustainable and decarbonizing technologies; Bill Gates poured another $1 billion in Breakthrough Energy Ventures for a second round of investments after backing 45 startups with its first billion. And finally, Elon Musk has offered a $100 million prize for the best carbon capture technology.
With billions in venture capital backing, startups across the globe are supercharging the technological advancements necessary to clean up industries that have been contributing to global warming for decades.
Yet as promising technology moves us closer to a pollution free planet, industrialization continues to rapidly advance.
One example is the rising global demand for new buildings and infrastructure. As cities grow, so does the need for more and more cement, the basic ingredient of concrete and the most widely used construction material in the world. While cement has shaped civilization for centuries, it also comes with a high environmental cost. In fact, the cement industry is responsible for about 8% of annual emissions of carbon dioxide. And if the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world behind China and the U.S.
All of this begs the question: Can clean tech find a way to eliminate the carbon footprint in the production of cement?
Enter Synhelion, a Swiss-based startup focused on developing cutting-edge solar technology to reduce global CO2 emissions. The 4-year-old company has raised $18 million through Series A funding and is currently raising Series B funding.
In September 2020, Synhelion teamed up with CEMEX, one of the largest building materials companies in the world and producer of 93 million tons of cement per year. CEMEX has been working to establish the company as a sustainability leader in the industry by setting an ambitious goal “to deliver net-zero CO2 concrete globally by 2050.” CEMEX has been included in The Dow Jones Sustainability MILA Pacific Alliance Index and the FTSE4Good Index Series for its sustainability practices.
The Synhelion-CEMEX partnership is one to watch. The technology that Synhelion created takes advantage of our most powerful source of energy — the sun — to replace the use of fossil fuels in cement plants, and capture 100 percent of the carbon emissions, which are then utilized as feedstock for fuel production, enabling cement manufacturing to achieve net-zero level. As an additional benefit, Synhelion will possess a huge market opportunity in the future: a “solar fuel” that is climate-friendly, affordable and versatile (solar fuel can be used as kerosene, gasoline, diesel, methanol, hydrogen, or synthetic crude oil).
“We are witnessing a completely novel way to manage the emissions from cement production by using solar heat in an advanced and sophisticated manner,” said Davide Zampini, CEMEX Head of Global R&D and IP Management. “The partnership with Synhelion reinforces our determination to decarbonize cement production and is the outcome of our persistent R&D efforts to develop sustainable solutions as well as identify strategic partners at the forefront of innovation. Synhelion shares our commitment to closing the carbon cycle and our collaboration should enable CEMEX to accelerate the pace towards achieving its net-zero CO2 ambition for 2050.”
CEMEX understands the impact of Synhelion’s technology not just for the company but also for revolutionizing the industry. “We’re doing this for us, but also for the industry,” Zampini said. “Not only in Europe and California, but in many other countries in the world carbon emissions are becoming more and more relevant and legislation is focusing on how to minimize emissions. So it’s something that we need to address. We don’t see this technology limited to CEMEX, but we believe that the whole industry can take advantage of what we’re developing here.”
The sun is the most powerful renewable resource we have available. It delivers more energy to Earth within a couple of hours than the whole world consumes within a year. Synhelion taps into this potential by developing technologies that concentrate solar radiation and convert it into high-temperature process heat. This heat can be used to produce synthetic fuel or to drive industrial processes. In 2020, the 250 kW Synhelion solar receiver reached outlet temperatures beyond 1’500°C. This breakthrough opens up a myriad of possibilities to replace fossil fuels with solar heat in order to decarbonize industries that — traditionally — heavily depend on fossil fuels.