Calera to Produce Carbon Absorbing Cement

Calera logoA Silicon Valley start-up says that it has found a way to capture the carbon dioxide emissions from coal and gas power plants and absorb them in cement.

Cement production is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions in the United States; coal-fired electricity plants are the biggest source.

“With this technology, coal can be cleaner than solar and wind, because they can only be carbon-neutral,” said Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley billionaire. His venture capital firm, Khosla Ventures, has invested about $50 million in Calera. On Monday, Calera will announce that Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, has invested $15 million.

Calera says that by changing carbon into a building material, it can make carbon reduction economically attractive, especially in places where there are no government subsidies or carbon taxes.

In 2007, Brent Constantz and Mr. Khosla formulated plans for Calera. Though the company declines to share precise details of its process, it says that it combines carbon dioxide with seawater or groundwater brine, which contains calcium, oxygen and magnesium. It gets left with calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate, used for making cement and aggregate.

To make its cement more usable for manufacturers of traditional Portland cement, it is also making concrete blends of 20% Calera cement and 80% Portland cement – the calcium silicate binder used in concrete for buildings, bridges and highways.

Being Green on Lent

In the Christian tradition of Lent, church-goers give up something like an everyday item for 40 days. It could be alcohol, TV, a certain food, something like that. But on Wednesday, the first day of this year’s Lent, many people chose to give carbon instead.

At the Grace Episcopal Church in Newington, Connecticut, church-goers were encouraged to analyze their light bulbs, their grocery bags, and their utility bills, and see where they could make changes. The name of the game is thinking

“about the environment and doing things to save it for yourself and those who come after us,”

quoth Reverend Jane White-Hassler.

It is only natural for a church that has been implementing eco-friendly building upgrades since last summer, and is currently even considering solar panels.

Also in Connecticut, Catholic priest and Franciscan friar Tom Washburn blogged on Tuesday about the carbon fast which he is undertaking, which he implemented initially in 2008. Let’s take a glance at his 40-day guidelines:

The 40-day plan lists simple energy-saving ideas which can lead towards a lighter carbon footprint, including snubbing plastic bags, giving the dishwasher a day off, insulating the hot-water tank and checking the home for drafts.

Here’s how it works:

First Day (Ash Wednesday): Take out one light bulb and live without it for the next 40 days.

Second Day: Check the house for draughts with a ribbon or feather. If there is flutter, buy a draught excluder.

Third Day: Tread lightly – on foot, by bike, on to a bus or on the gas as you drive. Make sure to find a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions when you travel today.

The Ups and Downs of Nuke-Powered Sleds

Did you know that sometime in this remaining lifetime of yours you might find yourself driving a nuclear-powered car? ‘Tis true, ’tis true. You also might be driving a solar-powered, wind-powered, landfill-gas powered, hydroelectric powered, ocean-energy powered, coal, oil or natural gas-powered car. ‘Tis true, ’tis true.

As it stands the US gets about 20% of its electricity from nuclear power and with President Obama’s new commitment for more uranium-fired power plants, we could see that percentage rise a few points. So, depending on what grid your electric car is recharging from, or what time of day it is, your car could very well be storing electricity generated at a nuclear plant. If this is the case, then you will have a nuclear-powered car.

This of course is assuming that someday you shall be driving an electrically-powered car, which is a likelihood that increases daily.

Financial help from Washington, using money on loan from taxpayers is helping to push along the drift toward electric driving. The requirement for automakers to meet new fuel economy standards is also helping the effort.

But government is not the sole force behind this electric drive effort: Small companies and startups are getting into the electric car business because they want to. Large companies too. Many of the majors are guaranteeing that electric cars and trucks are in their model portfolios of the future because they want them there.

Here are some reasons for the interest in electric cars…

1- Zero or largely reduced carbon emissions removes the cars as contributors to climate change.

2- Zero or largely reduced noxious emissions removes the cars as contributors to unhealthy air pollution.

3- Then of course there is the issue of oil supply. Manufacturers have seen the results – the widespread failure of their businesses – due partially to a spike in oil prices.

4- Leaps in technology, particularly in batteries. Lithium-based batteries with less weight and more stored power have improved range. Charging times have become reduced too. High voltage charging (440/480 volt for example) charging times could near that required to fill up a tank with gas. High voltage charging could also eliminate the need for battery swap-on-the fly schemes.

5- There is also battery life and afterlife. The lithium batteries are expected to last roughly the life of the vehicle. Also, when batteries can no longer hold enough charge to propel a car they can work in semiretirement storing electricity from renewable energy from the grid, like solar power.

6- Lastly, there appears to be enough demand in the marketplace. There are those people who want to charge from home, possibly with home-generated electricity. And there are people who want the relative simplicity of electric drive. And then there are the early-adopters who just want electric drive because it is new and different.

So if there is anything which is holding back the commercialization of electric cars it’s the cost of batteries that drive up the cost of the whole vehicle. Further, pure battery electric drive should not be expected to totally dominate the vehicle market for decades. The mix of vehicles on the road will range from conventional vehicles, any combination of hybrids, plug-in hybrids as well as variations of bio-fuel-powered vehicles for many years.

Me last thoughts are these:

President Obama’s yet-to-be-approved budget has $54 billion in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors…you’ve probably heard this. ‘Tis true, the reactors will provide emission-free power, but nuclear power to charge electric cars is not necessarily the “green” way to go.