Carbon-Negative Building Materials

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research


What it is

Carbon-negative building materials are materials that sequester more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere than they emit during their production, transportation, use, and end-of-life. This means that these materials have a net negative carbon footprint, actively contributing to the reduction of atmospheric CO2 levels.

Impact on climate action

Carbon-Negative Building Materials offer a seismic shift in climate action by reducing carbon footprint in construction. These materials sequester more carbon dioxide than they emit during production, actively combating climate change. Widespread adoption could significantly mitigate construction’s environmental impact, fostering a more sustainable built environment for future generations.

Underlying
Technology

  • Bio-Based Materials: Utilizing rapidly renewable biological resources, such as timber, bamboo, hemp, and algae, which absorb CO2 during their growth.
  • Carbon Sequestration Technologies: Incorporating materials that capture and store CO2, such as biochar and mineralized carbon.
  • Low-Embodied Energy Production: Manufacturing processes with minimal energy consumption and emissions, often utilizing renewable energy sources.
  • Circular Economy Principles: Designing for disassembly and reuse, extending the lifespan of materials, and minimizing waste generation.

TRL : Varied, ranging from 4-5 (lab-scale research and development) to 6-7 (pilot projects and demonstrations).

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Mass Timber Construction: Utilizing cross-laminated timber (CLT) and other engineered wood products can sequester significant amounts of carbon, as the wood acts as a long-term carbon store.
  • Hempcrete: This bio-based material, made from hemp fibers and lime, absorbs CO2 during the hemp plant’s growth and further sequesters carbon through the carbonation of lime.
  • Biochar-Based Materials: Biochar, a charcoal-like material produced from biomass, can be incorporated into building materials, such as concrete and insulation, effectively sequestering carbon for centuries.
  • CO2-Injected Concrete: Injecting captured CO2 into concrete during the mixing process mineralizes the CO2, permanently storing it within the concrete matrix.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Bio-Based Carbon Sequestration
  • Timber as Carbon Sink
  • Bamboo’s Carbon Capture Potential
  • Harnessing Hemp for Carbon Negativity
  • Algae-Based Carbon Sequestration
  • Biochar Integration in Construction
  • Mineralized Carbon Materials
  • Low-Energy Manufacturing Processes
  • Renewable Energy Utilization
  • Circular Design Principles
  • Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) Innovation
  • Hempcrete Advancements
  • Biochar-Infused Concrete
  • Lime-Based Carbon Sequestration
  • Carbon Capture in Building Insulation
  • CO2 Utilization in Construction
  • Concrete Carbonation Techniques

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Made of Air (Germany):
    • Technology Focus: Made of Air specializes in creating carbon-negative building materials by sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They may utilize innovative methods such as carbon capture and utilization (CCU) to convert CO2 into solid materials.
    • Uniqueness: Made of Air stands out for its commitment to environmental sustainability by actively removing carbon from the atmosphere and incorporating it into construction materials. Their approach offers a tangible solution to combat climate change while addressing the construction industry’s carbon footprint.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments could include construction companies, architects, and developers looking for eco-friendly building materials. Additionally, government agencies and organizations focused on sustainability might also be interested in their solutions.
  • Biomason (USA):
    • Technology Focus: Biomason specializes in producing carbon-negative building materials using bio-based processes. They may employ techniques such as microbial-induced calcite precipitation (MICP) to grow limestone-like materials without the carbon emissions associated with traditional cement production.
    • Uniqueness: Biomason offers a unique alternative to conventional building materials by harnessing the power of biology to create sustainable and carbon-negative products. Their approach minimizes reliance on fossil fuels and reduces the environmental impact of construction.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments may include construction companies, architects, and developers seeking greener alternatives to traditional building materials. Industries with a focus on sustainability, such as green building certification programs, could also be potential customers.
  • Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs) (UK):
    • Technology Focus: Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs) specializes in developing technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Their focus on carbon-negative building materials likely involves research and development into innovative materials and processes that actively sequester carbon during production and use.
    • Uniqueness: NETs stands out for its comprehensive approach to carbon negativity, addressing not only emissions reduction but also carbon removal from the atmosphere. Their solutions have the potential to revolutionize the construction industry by offering materials that actively contribute to climate mitigation.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments could include construction companies, material manufacturers, and infrastructure developers interested in adopting carbon-negative building materials to meet sustainability targets. Government agencies and organizations focused on climate change mitigation might also be key stakeholders.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Yale University:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at Yale are pioneering the development of carbon-negative building materials through innovative manufacturing processes and material compositions. They are exploring novel techniques such as carbon capture and utilization (CCU) to incorporate recycled carbon dioxide into building materials, effectively removing carbon from the atmosphere.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Yale’s approach involves a holistic lifecycle assessment of building materials, considering not only their carbon footprint but also their environmental impact across their entire lifecycle. By optimizing material selection and manufacturing processes, they aim to create building materials that actively contribute to carbon sequestration and climate mitigation.
    • End-use Applications: The carbon-negative building materials developed at Yale have applications in various construction projects, including residential, commercial, and infrastructure developments. These materials offer architects and builders an eco-friendly alternative to conventional construction materials, helping to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment.
  • University of Cambridge:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at the University of Cambridge are leveraging advanced materials science and engineering techniques to develop carbon-negative building materials with enhanced performance and durability. They are exploring innovative material compositions and manufacturing methods to create sustainable alternatives to traditional construction materials.
    • Uniqueness of Research: The research at the University of Cambridge focuses on integrating carbon-negative building materials into existing construction practices seamlessly. They are working closely with industry partners to ensure scalability and practicality, addressing challenges such as cost-effectiveness and regulatory compliance.
    • End-use Applications: The carbon-negative building materials developed at the University of Cambridge have potential applications in a wide range of construction projects, including high-rise buildings, bridges, and infrastructure projects. By replacing conventional materials with sustainable alternatives, these materials can help mitigate the environmental impact of construction activities and contribute to a greener built environment.
  • ETH Zurich:
    • Technology Enhancements: ETH Zurich’s research aims to push the boundaries of low-carbon construction materials by exploring cutting-edge technologies such as 3D printing and nanotechnology. They are developing innovative manufacturing processes that allow for the precise control of material properties and the efficient use of resources.
    • Uniqueness of Research: ETH Zurich’s approach emphasizes the integration of carbon-negative building materials with smart design and construction practices. They are exploring how digital technologies such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) can optimize the use of sustainable materials throughout the entire building lifecycle, from design and construction to operation and maintenance.
    • End-use Applications: The carbon-negative building materials developed at ETH Zurich have diverse applications in both residential and commercial construction projects. From energy-efficient housing to sustainable infrastructure developments, these materials offer architects and engineers versatile solutions for reducing the carbon footprint of the built environment.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

While carbon-negative building materials are still emerging, several pilot projects and demonstration buildings showcase their potential. As the technology matures and the demand for sustainable construction increases, wider commercial implementation is expected in the coming years.