Can Bacteria, Biocement, Biomason save the concrete industry?

April 11, 2021 |

Did you know concrete is the most consumed substance in the world, other than water? No big deal in terms of environmental impact, after all concrete is pretty “natural” right? Not so fast. Portland cement is a core ingredient in traditional concrete and the cement industry accounts for about 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions. So making biocement – a cement that captures carbon instead of releasing carbon – is a huge deal and Biomason is doing that with microorganisms to grow cement materials.

In today’s Digest, why biocement is a game-changer, the tech behind Biomason’s biocement, what it means for carbon capture, an exclusive Digest only interview with Biomason’s CEO Ginger Krieg Dosier, and more.

The Tech

First, let’s start with the technology. The usual Portland cement is a calcium-silicate hydrate material that originally comes from liberating carbon from limestone. North Carolina-based Biomason’s biocement is a reversal of this process, where carbon and calcium are combined to produce a biologically formed limestone material. This means that high heat and fossil fuels are not required in their process, and their materials use carbon as a building block.

While traditional concrete can take up to 28-days, Biomason biocement reaches its final strength in less than 72 hours of growth. The final material consists of approximately 85% granite from recycled sources, and 15% biologically grown limestone. They are growing natural stone in under 3 days!

Biomason uses naturally occurring bacteria to produce their biocement building material. Biomason uses a non-modified bacteria described as a wild-type strain. Their non-pathogenic strain was isolated from a species commonly found in natural environments across the world. These bacteria typically create cemented materials over hundreds or thousands of years, but their process enables them to do the same work in a matter of days.

So for every kilogram of biocement used instead of portland cement, they eliminate one kilogram of CO₂ released into the environment from concrete production.

Their scaled process is similar to hydroponics and traditional concrete block manufacturing yet stands out because it is:

  • x3 stronger (than a concrete block)
  • 100% recyclable (or reusable)
  • CO₂ neutral (biological carbonate cement)

Biomason has also been involved with several military projects. “We also work with the Department of Defense on developing Engineered Living Marine Cement (ELMc) and a biocement-application system for vertical take-off and landing operations,” Ginger Krieg Dosier, CEO and President of Biomason told The Digest in an exclusive interview. “Those projects are continuing on as we explore more opportunities in the future.”

Here’s a quick run-down of the two DoD projects:

Engineered Living Marine Cement (ELMc)

Biomason, with support from the United States Department of Defense, developed a prototype ELMc technology. This deployable biocement material is seeded with a proprietary consortia of self-sustaining natural marine microorganisms that source required nutrients from seawater for propagative calcium carbonate precipitation. This results in sustained structural integrity, self-healing abilities, and promotion of anchoring to the marine sediment floor. Potential applications include: supportive marine infrastructure, breakwater assemblies and near-shore sediment stabilization.

Over 3 years of laboratory development and successful proof-of-concept trials have led to large-scale field evaluations using native seawater in natural complex marine environments.

Project Medusa

Another project Biomason has been working on with support from the United States Department of Defense is developing an agile biocement-application system to be deployed in forward operating positions where native, non-engineered surfaces prevent safe vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) operations. Application may be tailored to soil substrate type, operational environment, and targeted outcomes (baseline soil strengthening, erosion control, or dust abatement) – think military helicopters that need to land and take-off without dust going everywhere and giving away their location. Current prototype system equipment and material inputs represent a significant reduction in required mass transport and manpower compared to current state-of-the-art solutions.

Early prototype demonstrations executed in coordination with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) have proven successful.

Commercialization

2020 wasn’t a good year in many aspects, but for Biomason, it was a great year. In 2020 alone, Biomason more than doubled its team bringing its headcount to 80 people and started its 10x expansion adding to its production footprint with a move to new headquarters in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

They also added two new executive leadership positions with the hire of Lily Wachter, a former Goldman Sachs equity analyst with a PhD in sustainable development from Columbia, as Chief Financial Officer and Bert Bruggeman, former VP of Automotive Manufacturing at Tesla, as Chief Operations Officer. They also unveiled a new brand identiy in February 2021 as it accelerates the scale-up of its novel biocement building materials.

“2021 is an important year for Biomason; we’re rapidly scaling our technology and team – launching projects with global brand customers in the coming months,” said Krieg-Dosier. “It’s the right time for us to update our company identity. We‘re thrilled to now have a brand as bold as our vision: to end the world’s dependence on carbon-emitting construction materials.”

In an exclusive Digest interview, Krieg-Dosier told The Digest that in terms of commercialization, “Our bioLITH tiles are in use in multiple projects throughout the country, including at Dropbox HQ in San Francisco and at Martin Marietta’s new Raleigh location. We are actively working with clients ranging from commercial companies and developers to innovative architects and designers worldwide to incorporate bioLITH and biocement® technology into their projects.”

Looking back to look forward

“Over the last three years, Biomason has seen tremendous growth,” Krieg-Dosier told The Digest. “We closed multiple rounds of financing with world class investors, including Novo Holdings and Martin Marietta, which has paved the way for realizing ambitious goals. We moved our teams into a new headquarters and dedicated production facility in Research Triangle Park. And our recent additions of top-level experienced hires to our Executive Leadership Team has positioned us for continued acceleration and expansion.”

“As we look toward the future for Biomason, we have no intention of slowing down, said Krieg-Dosier. “Our goals are multifold, encompassing both business development and continued technological advancement. Primarily, we plan to grow our licensed manufacturing and strategic partnerships, increase profitability, and implement additional carbon technology platforms.”

“Since the inception of Biomason nine years ago, we have pushed for materials to contribute a positive impact on the environment. This includes manufacturing as well as the performance. The building and construction industry needs disruption. Traditional Portland based cement has not seen significant change in 200 years. Its manufacturing accounts for 8% of total carbon emissions and uses 10% of global drinking water.”

“Biomason’s biological-based solutions provide a new way of manufacturing through understanding the blueprints found in nature as inspiration. Our process emits 99.4% less carbon than traditional Portland cement manufacturing. Our bioLITH tiles cure in less than 72 hours in ambient temperatures, compared to 28 days of kiln-firing for traditional concrete, and are three times stronger.”

“We are continuing to iterate and advance, because we know critical accelerated change is needed across multiple applications with customers in mind as we are in a climate change crisis. The potential uses for Biomason’s technology are vast, and we are eager to see them through.”

Bottom Line

Ok, we need cement to make concrete and we need concrete to make buildings, roads, bridges, infrastructure, but do we really need to emit carbon while doing it? Not anymore! Just like the aviation industry sought out ways to decrease their carbon footprint, it’s time for the concrete industry to do the same to make a positive difference in the world. So we applaud companies like Biomason that are innovators and creating paths to make it happen on a commercial scale to move the needle in improving a CO2-emitting industry towards a CO2-neutral industry.

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