One of biggest contributors of greenhouse gases on the planet is cement.
Cement is the glue that holds together the stones, pebbles or whatever tough material goes into your concrete bricks and sidewalks. But its production creates more carbon emissions than all the airplanes and ships in the world. Manufacture a ton of cement, and you’ll inject a ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Krieg Dosier is the CEO and cofounder of bioMASON, a biotechnology startup in Raleigh, North Carolina, that has spent the past four years using bacteria to grow cement and make bricks. This microbial business venture is a departure — and not a microscopic one — from the industry norm.
Of the two billion tons of CO2 emissions created each year by cement production, half come from fossil fuels burned as an energy source for the kilns. The energy used to bake one ton of cement could power the average U.S. home for more than a month.
In general, carbon dioxide emissions have been going up from cement because, as more people on the earth and countries like China industrialize, we’re producing a lot more cement than we did 10, 20 or 30 years ago.
A decade ago, Krieg Dosier was contemplating this pollution problem and her thoughts turned to seashells. Seashells — the protective outer layer made by some marine animals — are composed of calcium carbonate, the hard stuff found in limestone. She wondered if biologically made — or biomineralized — calcium carbonate could replace cement and make concrete bricks.
After years of toil and 111 failed experiments, the Dosiers landed on the right brewing conditions for bioMASON cement.
BioMASON’s innovation hinges on a rod-shaped bacteria called Bacillus. They use a Bacillus strain that’s naturally occurring (no genetic modification) and it doesn’t cause disease.
But rather than take months or years to harden, bioMASON’s bacteria cement finishes the deed in two to three days. The whole process happens at room temperature, without the need for burning fossil fuels or calcination.
BioMASON’s microbe not only skips the high heat, it also absorbs CO2 from the air to make the calcium carbonate.