The company, which was spun off in late 2019 from a UCLA research team led by civil engineer professor Gaurav Sant, has developed a process for injecting concrete with carbon dioxide emissions from power plants or other industrial facilities.
The idea is to sequester the carbon dioxide emissions into concrete that can then be sold to builders and other construction contractors. This process reduces the cost for cement, concrete, power generation and other industrial plant operators to comply with mandates to reduce carbon emissions.
After completing two pilot projects demonstrating the technology, CarbonBuilt in February hired veteran climate tech executive Rahul Shendure to commercialize the technology.
CarbonBuilt was spurred on by a $20 million XPrize competition sponsored by Houston-based NRG Energy Inc. and Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, which is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta.
On April 19, UCLA's Samueli School of Engineering announced that CarbonBuilt was one of the XPrize winners, receiving a $7.5 million award. The XPrize Foundation, which hosts several prizes, is headquartered in Culver City.
CarbonBuilt, which is currently housed at the California Nanosystems Institute’s Magnify incubator on the UCLA campus, is one of several companies or teams that have qualified for the final round of this XPrize competition. Other contestants include at least one company — CarbonCure Technologies Inc. of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia — that is also trying to inject carbon dioxide into concrete.
CarbonBuilt’s approach has been to use low-cost hydrated lime as a base material for the manufacture of concrete, then inject carbon dioxide emissions from an industrial process to cure the concrete into usable form.
Carbon dioxide ends up permanently stored in the concrete, reducing emissions from the concrete manufacture process by 50% to 70%.
“Our biggest differentiator is our cost structure. We’re using low-cost materials such as hydrated lime, which is already a commodity chemical,” Shendure said. “We are the only technology that can use waste carbon dioxide without an expensive purification process.”
According to Shendure, the up-front capital investment to set up CarbonBuilt’s process is between $1 million and $2 million, significantly less than what power or cement or concrete plants spend on equipment to take carbon dioxide out of their emissions.
CarbonBuilt believes that once the process is up and running at commercial scale, operators of these facilities will recoup their up-front investment and possibly more through the sale of the concrete produced.
“We believe our technology is more widely applicable and makes 50% or more reduction in carbon emissions,” Shendure said.