Nova Scotia

Halifax firm injects CO2 into concrete and reduces carbon footprint

A new type of concrete developed in Halifax is stronger, faster-setting and has a lower carbon footprint than the regular common building material. It's been used in Canada for the first time in the north end of Halifax.

New concrete, developed in Nova Scotia, is stronger and faster-setting than regular concrete

Rob Niven, the CEO of CarbonCure Technologies, says his company has been developing the specialized concrete for more than five years in Burnside, N.S. (CBC)

A company in Nova Scotia has developed a green concrete technology, a breakthrough in the spirit of this week's United Nations climate change summit in Paris. 

The concrete is injected with carbon dioxide, an ingredient that makes a stronger, faster-setting product with a lower carbon footprint, according to its developer CarbonCure Technologies, based in Burnside, N.S.

"We've finally cracked the code and are now in the ready-mix market," said Rob Niven, the CEO of CarbonCure.

The product is being poured at a north-end Halifax building site where the new Ambassatours corporate and bus service centre is under construction near the Ceres Container Pier by BD Stevens.

The construction company's subsidiary, Quality Concrete, is the first Canadian company using ready mix concrete containing recycled CO2 made using CarbonCure Technologies.

"This is what we have been working towards for five, six years," Niven said.

How it works

Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is captured from big emitters and mixed with cement and other ingredients to produce what the company says is a stronger, faster setting concrete that sequesters greenhouse gas and lowers its carbon footprint up to 10 to 15 per cent. During the process, the CO2 gas mineralizes to become a limestone calcium carbonate.

Right now, there are about 20 concrete block manufacturers in North America that use CarbonCure. Earlier this year its technology was adapted to ready-mix, opening the company to a market 20 times larger than general concrete masonry.

Breakthrough customers 

In November, two large U.S. contractors signed licensing agreements with CarbonCure for ready-mix concrete: Alabama-based Vulcan Materials, which is behind the proposed Black Point Quarry in Guysborough County, and Bay Ready Mix of Baltimore, Md.

"These are the kind of companies that have the highest standards to adopt new technology, so by having their stamp of approval usually it means it's good for any other concrete producers," Niven said.

Vulcan said it will use CarbonCure ready-mix in jobs in the Washington, D.C. area.

Bay Ready Mix first used CarbonCure in concrete masonry blocks in 2014. 

In a Nov. 18 news release, Bay Ready Mix president Brendan Quinn called the decision to adopt CarbonCure's technology "a no-brainer."

"The CarbonCure technology and its sustainable attributes exceeded our expectations in masonry," Quinn said in the statement. "I have no doubt that this technology is the future of concrete."

Another half dozen concrete producers will be announced soon, Niven said.

As the largest man-made product in use around the world — with an equally large carbon footprint — concrete presents a huge commercial opportunity for CarbonCure and a potentially positive environmental impact, he said.

"There is no ceiling for us," Niven said. "We are seeing tremendous amounts of inbound, unsolicited sales calls. Everyone wants to be able to get in on using a greener concrete product."

U.S. office in 2016

The company, which was founded in 2007, will open a U.S. office in early 2016 for technicians and sales staff, Niven said.

Terri McCulloch of Ambassatours says hiring a local concrete company helps Ambassatours reach its sustainability goals. (CBC)

The head office will remain in Nova Scotia, he said. The company currently employs 20 people at its Burnside office where it runs a testing lab and assembles the machinery that injects the carbon dioxide into concrete batches.

The five year goal is to expand into emerging markets like India and China. But first, its ready mix application will have to prove itself, he said.

'Thrilled the technology is coming from the region'

At the job site in Halifax, Terri McCulloch of Ambassatours said the concrete footings and walls being poured send a message about innovation in the region.

"We are able to work together to support our collective objectives," McCulloch said. "We can attain our sustainability objectives by using these local companies. We're thrilled the technology is coming from the region."

Watching the project unfold has special meaning for Rob Niven.

"As many other Nova Scotian companies understand, often times your success occurs outside the province, and that's fine," Niven said. "But it is special to drive by this location everyday on my way to work, watch it going up and understand you are making a difference here, locally."


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.


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