Sustainability is More than Green Power
In this episode, we discuss how sustainability encompasses more than just sourcing green power. Eric Dunford, Director of Sustainability at CarbonCure Technologies discusses how cement is the primary environmental impact of concrete, and how his company reduces the raw materials needed to make concrete, which is used to make, well, everything.
Announcer: Welcome to “Not Your Father’s Data Center” podcast, brought to you by Compass Data Centers. We build for what’s next. Now, here’s your host, Raymond Hawkings.
Raymond: All right, so it is July 14th, as we record today, another edition of “Not Your Father’s Data Center” and we are pleased to welcome CarbonCure’s director of sustainability. Eric Dunford. Eric, thank you for joining us.
Eric: Thank you for having me. Raymond.
Raymond: Hey, Eric, how is life up there in Toronto right now? I know we are still gripped in the throes of a global pandemic. And us down here in the States, we’re seeing cases rise and anxiety rise and wonder how things are going for my friends in the north.
Eric: You know, it’s been interesting lately, we’ve been going through a bit of a reopening on our side. Most of the case levels here in the province of Ontario are down to about 100 or so a day now. So, it’s been an unusual few months, but it seems that things are lessening and hopefully that continues, but obviously, all to be prepared to see what the fall holds for all of us.
Raymond: Gotcha, so again to make sure I get this term right. Lots of my friends in Toronto have is it cottages or, are you away at the cottage? Or are you in the city for the summer?
Eric: Yes. So surrounding Toronto, there’s many freshwater lakes and including, that’s where my hometown is in that area. And so most people or many people who are fortunate enough to have one have cottages is the term they would use, which are just residences or properties on one of the lakes in the area.
Raymond: I think what the three big ones just north of the city couple hour and a half, two hours where folks often will spend the summer. I’ve heard lots of folks getting out of town because of just making it easier to have more room and the kids not so stressed out being in the city and worried about the lockdown. So are you fortunate enough to be at the lake? Or are you working every day?
Eric: Well, I actually just came back from a week of vacation and my parents have a property on the water, a few of my relatives do as well. So I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend in the water in two different lakes. The biggest one being Stoney Lake, which is pretty famous in my hometown of Peterborough.
Raymond: All right, cool. Well, so you’re tanned and rested and ready to talk about sustainability. So we appreciate that good stuff. Eric, if you don’t mind for the folks that don’t know, we’d love to hear a little bit about you, how it is that you came to be in the sustainability business concerned about our environment, and then maybe even a little bit of how your connection to CarbonCure and then we’ll get into talking about the solution itself and how it fits into the data center business.
Eric: Of course, so to quote one of my former managers, everybody who works in the sustainability field takes a bit of a tortured path to get there it seems. And I think part of that is that until recently, there hasn’t really been as much emphasis on the topic and so many of us, who have been in this industry for some time, originally came out of a different background. So, when I was in university, one of the things I was studying was environmental science. And that was always an interest for me. But what I really became passionate about was how to kind of infuse those values or those principles into business management. And so my background, I originally started in the field of biology, and then ultimately did a Masters of Business degree.
And kind of combining both of those backgrounds, I was able to bring that into a consulting environment and have been assisting a number of different organizations, private companies, local governments for the past several years working on some of the challenges that they face around renewable energy. And, just being a more responsible, either business or citizen or government. And so that was kind of how I fell into that line of work. And so over those years, I had kept close ties with a number of my colleagues that I had participated in the Masters of Business program with, including a good friend of mine who happened to work for CarbonCure. And so CarbonCure was founded in 2007. And she would have joined the company around 2013.
And so over the last several years or so I was keeping, in touch with her and understanding what was going on with CarbonCure, kind of from afar. And then about a year ago now, she called me out of the blue and was just asking me if there was any opportunity that I’d be interested in working with them. Because a position had arisen that she felt it was a really good fit for me. So that ultimately worked out and that was how I joined the organization about a year ago.
Raymond: Gotcha. And so ’07, so we’re more than a dozen years in at CarbonCure. As director of sustainability, your day-to-day mission, when you wake up every morning, what is it that you’re charged with and thinking about every day?
Eric: So like all startups, we all wear a number of different hats. So I would say there’s about three things that are within my realm of responsibility. The first one would be supporting some of our customers. So as a technology company, we work with a number of different concrete producers. And part of my main role is really assisting them and helping to understand how to best use our technology and also how to engage with end-users who would be designing and building infrastructure and buildings and help them understand why they should be using concrete made with CarbonCure. So that’s what I would say is that is the bulk of my effort of my day-to-day work. But in addition to that, I’m also responsible for managing government relations efforts. I’m part of the organization and also working to ensure that what we do internally reflects what we do as a business and making sure that we continue to show leadership on an internal sustainability perspective as well. So those would be the three things that I primarily spend my time on day-to-day.
Raymond: Gotcha. On the government relations side are there initiatives where governments are saying, hey, as we think about concrete in our infrastructure, mandating or suggesting that what CarbonCure does become part of a regulation, is that a thing? Is that happening already?
Eric: It certainly is. And especially in the past two years, we’ve really seen a rapid increase in the amount of interest in this area. So some of that is stemming from recent research. There’s a group called Architecture 2030 that is part of the American Institute of Architects. And they had done some analysis in the past year or two, that was revealing some of the importance of the issue of what we would call embodied carbon, which is carbon associated with building materials and products and things like that. So based off of some of that research, there’s been, pretty substantial evidence that there’s a big picture as part of the climate and emissions challenges that was not being captured.
So for the public sector, interestingly enough, something in the order of about 50% to 70% of all concrete is actually bought by the public sector. And so if you think about, a day-to-day walk, you might take in your neighborhood, you’d see things like street poles or you see things like sidewalks, and parking lots, and curbs, and gutters. All of that actually is the majority of what people are using concrete for. So if you think about highway overpasses, things like that. It’s quite substantial. And so as a result of that a lot of public sector governments are looking at this issue and saying, “What can we do about this?” And then they’re becoming aware of the impact that those materials are actually having. So just recently, we’ve seen a lot of activity both in the State of Hawaii and in the state of New York, where they’ve introduced policies and legislation that are directing both their own organizations, their own agencies to procure low carbon materials, low carbon concrete, and also to direct where possible the private sector to follow suit. So we would expect to see this continue.
And that’s largely because these types of emissions that come from industrial manufactured products have traditionally been one of the most difficult areas to “decarbonize”. So we expect to see again that to continue to grow and here in Canada recently, the federal government here released a statement effectively explaining that they were exploring opportunities through their own procurement to be sourcing low carbon products as well.
Raymond: Well, the government angle fascinates me and let’s get into that a little bit more before I get too far down the path. Why don’t we back up just for a minute and, walk people through exactly what happens here. I love the video you guys have on your website where it talks about the calcium carbonate where it bonds and actually becomes another mineral and the CO2 is then captured forever. That video is super helpful. But could you take a minute and walk those of us through who struggled in chemistry class at a high level, what happens, how it works, how y’all discovered this idea or how you came up with the idea and where it gets used?
Eric: Of course. So I think before I get into that, I’ll spend a few seconds here just explaining what concrete is and what it is not. This is something that I truly didn’t understand in great detail before I joined the organization, but just for everyone listening to understand, concrete is actually made up of a variety of different materials. So before you would see it actually being used, it’s created using primarily cement, aggregates like sand or gravel, water, and then a variety of chemical admixtures that just add different properties to the concrete.
So in that selection of materials that would go into any concrete mix, you can actually get all sorts of different types of performance, everything from, like a foundation to your home or to these, multi-story skyscrapers. All of those different types of concrete have different kind of concentrations of materials and different mixtures of materials going into them. But the key thing to understand is that cement itself is actually the primary environmental impact of concrete. So although it might only make up 10% to 15% of the overall mass of concrete, it’s usually accounting for, approximately 90% of the carbon emissions from the material.
Raymond: So I think oftentimes in my mind, I’ve used the word concrete and cement interchangeably synonymous. They’re two different things. Can you give me 30 seconds on what is cement? And then, you add sand and you add water and some other chemicals and you get concrete, but cement is just what and what turns it into concrete? Because I think of those terms synonymously. I know I’m wrong.
Eric: Yes. So there’s a common joke in my family now because many of my family members refer to them as cement trucks, I’ll always be correcting them because it’s actually the concrete.
Raymond: It’s a concrete truck, right.
Eric: Then I get an eye roll. But, that’s the technically correct thing to say. So the difference really is and the analogy that’s often used in the industry is an analogy for a cake. So if you consider any kind of cake, the base of that cake is always going to be a form of flour. And so in this analogy, from the concrete perspective, the concrete is the cake and the cement would be the flour. So cement is the critical ingredient that binds all the other materials together and it’s concrete with strength. So it’s really kind of a key critical element that goes in there, but it isn’t the end product itself. So everything you would see touch lock on, all of those things. That’s all concrete you would never as an end-user really see cement its pure form. Unless you’re buying it at a Home Depot or something like that.
Raymond: I gotcha. Okay, that’s helpful. It’s a good analogy too I got it. So yeah, I just use the terms… That’s a great example. I say cement truck, but in reality, what’s in there is concrete.
Raymond: Got it. Okay, so thank you for that tutorial. That’s super helpful. It’s good. Let’s move on from there. So we put sand or we put little pebbles, we put other stuff and some other chemicals and water, and then it starts to cure. Let’s pick up from there.
Eric: For sure. So when you mix cement, water, and the aggregates together, that will over time cure, as you’ve said into concrete as the end product. The interesting thing is is that cement one of the precursor materials to it is something called calcium carbonate as a chemical structure. Which is actually in effect just limestone. So the cement industry, what traditionally happens is you go up to the natural environment, extract limestone as a raw material, and then it gets converted into cement inside of a cement kiln where it’s heated up under pressure in really high temperatures. And what you get out of that is this reaction that is essential to making concrete but the unfortunate downside to it is that this calcium carbonate which is CaCO3 when it’s subjected to that heat and pressure it will split in half.
And so half of it becomes CO2, which just goes directly to the atmosphere typically, and the other half of it becomes calcium oxide. And calcium oxide is one of the key precursors to cement as a material and it’s a key thing that is necessary for concrete to be made. So again, this is one of the really interesting challenges for the industry is that unlike many other industries, the basic chemical reaction needed to make the industry work, produces CO2, and it’s not doing that because of energy consumption, it’s actually a physical-chemical property that cannot really be changed.
So I’ll come back to that. But in terms of our technology, what we are doing is we are taking a portion of CO2 from a post-industrial source, reintroducing it to concrete as it’s being mixed at the plant. As a result of that reintroduction, it will then chemically reform back as calcium carbonate or limestone. So the neat thing there is that what we can do is we can use this kind of unique property of concrete to take CO2 that would otherwise go to the atmosphere, lock it back into concrete in a mineral solid form, and it can then stay embedded in the concrete as part of that structure for the entire lifespan of that structure.
Raymond: That is fascinating, Eric. So I’m gonna try to say it in a way that even a dumb sales guy can understand and make sure. So what I think I hear you telling me is that CaCO3, so calcium carbonate breaks apart in the making of concrete, so calcium and one oxygen molecules stay together and O2 gets spun out and what we’re doing in CarbonCure is we’re putting recaptured CO2 back into the mix and reforming calcium carbonate and capturing it in there forever. So it actually throws off carbon dioxide, and then your process recaptures that. Boy, I think I probably butchered that. But did I get that right?
Eric: No, you’re exactly right. So as you said, the split that occurs when you really process that limestone, is you get the CO2 that splits off and the calcium oxide is the part that we need to make cement.
Raymond: To make cement. Okay.
Eric: And then the technology, what it’s doing is it’s taking a portion of that CO2, not directly from the concrete manufacturing process, but taking a portion of CO2 and reintroducing it back into the mix where it reforms that limestone material and then is locked in there.
Raymond: That is fascinating. So the process of turning cement into concrete generates CO2. And what CarbonCure does is goes and gets CO2 and I think use industrial CO2 that’s been captured somewhere else, and re-interjects it into the process to recapture it. So a normal cement to concrete process producing CO2, you’ve reversed that. And I understand you’re not doing it from the CO2 that happened in your chemical reaction, but you’re getting it from an industrial source and re-interjecting Is that good? Do I track right?
Eric: Yes, that’s exactly right. The only thing, the only caveat to that I’ll say is that unfortunately, we’re not fully reversing that we can’t take the same volume of CO2 that’s produced and put it back in, we can only take a smaller proportion of it. But that is effectively the mode of action that you’ve just described it.
Raymond: Okay, so it’s not a one for one recapture. But it’s recapture that wasn’t happening before. So we’re still improving performance.
Eric: Exactly. So there’s one other wrinkle to the story that I will share as well. And this is actually in some ways, the coolest part, because, as I just described, what we did, and as you very eloquently described back is that we take a small portion of CO2 and turn it back into that original limestone material. And that’s the fundamental kind of chemistry that’s occurring. But the really cool thing that happens is that by doing that, you actually see increased strength in the concrete. So if you did nothing other than add CO2 to a concrete mix, we would actually expect to see that concrete become stronger.
So the really cool thing is, what we can do is then by using this approach, you can also just use less raw materials to make the same end product of concrete. So by using the CO2, we’re actually then also able to reduce the amount of cementitious materials needed to make the same volume of concrete and you get the same performance with a smaller footprint and a smaller demand for original source materials.
Raymond: So I think there’s a great message in that for all of us, but also a really cool side effect. So by doing the right thing for the environment by doing the right thing for all of mankind. And being environmentally responsible, the ancillary benefit is your concrete actually gets stronger. And then you can use less concrete, which just perpetuates the cycle of being more environmentally sound and validating your title as director of sustainability.
Eric: Yes. And my only clarification on that point would be to use the same amount of concrete, but we would use less cement as a raw material. If you needed 10,000 yards of concrete, you would still get the 10,000 yards because that’s what you need for the structural purposes, but somehow, raw ingredients going in would be reduced.
Raymond: I gotcha. So I may need the same size parking lot. But I can have less raw material in that parking lot, less cement in that parking lot to make it work.
Eric: Precisely. And one of the cool things here is, here growing up in the ’80s or ’90s, you might have heard all of this, that the reduce, reuse, recycle. That’s really kind of how this technology works. That’s, we’re reducing the amount of cementitious material in the first place. We’re recycling the CO2 that otherwise would go to the atmosphere and at the end of the day, what we hope to see is that concrete rubble from whatever building is being deconstructed is then reused as another product at the end of the day.
Raymond: As our listeners listen in and think about sustainability, especially in the data center business, the number one thing that everyone talks about is how much electricity data centers use, and that that’s the primary impact on the environment. We’ve done podcasts about water and its impact on the environment. But the reality is these structures, so much of them are concrete, and thinking about how do we do things in such a way that reduces our impact, not just with electricity use or water usage, but also emissions. So what a great story. All right. So this is fascinating how it works. Can you tell me who in ’07, sat in chemistry class and said, “I’ve got an idea.” How did this become a business, Eric?
Eric: Yes. So the original brainpower behind CarbonCure would be the CEO Robert Niven and then also our senior vice president Sean Monkman. So they both happened to be studying their master’s degrees at McGill University in Montreal in Quebec. And it had been known for a long time that CO2 was absorbed by concrete. So actually as concrete ages, it had been known that you would have this carbonation effect where it would be pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere. So that had always been seen as a bit of a problem, because that was contributing to aging of concrete. And, it was a known fact, but nobody really thought much more about it until Robert or Sean came along. Their thesis or their hypothesis, I should say, is they suspected that if you could put the CO2 into concrete when it was being made or early on in the process, that might have a different effect than what they would see as concrete aged over time.
And so, what I understand from Rob is that, they did some of this research and the research seemed to be positive. And at that point his father in law suggested that “Hey, maybe you should go out and see if anybody has ever done this before, if anyone has ever tried to produce a product like this before.” And lo and behold, after he did that research, it turned out that nobody was actually doing that at the time. So that was really the origin of the company is that, with that finding, and with some of the original research from their master’s degrees, that led them to spend a lot of time, in the classic startup story of kind of tinkering in each other’s apartments or basements or what have you. And for the first couple of years CarbonCure was a fairly small operation.
But then really, things started to accelerate probably around 2016 or so when one of the technologies for what we would call ready mix concrete, entered the market and started to see some fairly rapid adoption. So since then, we’ve been seeing production go up about you know, doubling basically every year since 2016. And hope to continue on that trend and trajectory for the foreseeable future.
Raymond: And so if I’m understanding Rob and Sean in the basement tinkering, this beginning thesis was as concrete ages, it’s absorbing CO2. And it’s, I don’t know if weakening is the right word, but it’s reducing its structural integrity. Now I know this is over a long run. And they’d said, “Hey, what if we inject it at the beginning and maybe you’re able to had that weakening process or that absorption process off at the past?” Is that a fair summary of what they were thinking?
Eric: Yes, basically translating that concept of if we know that concrete can absorb CO2, what would happen if we did that early on in the process? Will we see that same…and you’re right, it’s a detrimental effect from aging. Would we see that same detrimental effect early on? Or would we see something different happen? And that was the interesting thing they discovered is that by doing it early on, you don’t see that same effect that you see from the aging. So it was known…
Eric: …that the cement and concrete could absorb the CO2 but it wasn’t known really, what the early effects would be if it was introduced when Concrete was first being manufactured.
Raymond: I got it. So if we plug it in here at the beginning, are we just gonna hasten the deterioration impact? Are we just gonna make the concrete weaker faster? Or could there be some other reaction and that’s what Rob and Sean figured out that it actually strengthened the final product concrete and made it possibly even last longer. But more importantly, recaptured the CO2 and helped our environment pretty, pretty cool. Fascinating stuff. Well, I know McGill, has produced more than its fair share of smart folks and sounds like Robert and Sean fit in that category. Eric, you alluded a little bit to ready mix. Can you take two minutes and just again, in my simple neophyte mind, I think of, I use cement and concrete interchangeably. I know there’s ready mix, there’s precast, there’s masonry. Can you give me just two or three minutes on where this applies? The easy one for me is “Hey, it’s sidewalks and it’s overpasses.” Those two I can see every day. You mentioned foundations, but I know there are other ways concrete gets used. Could you walk me through ready mix, precast and masonry real quick.
Eric: So masonry blocks have also been known as cinder blocks. So they’re effectively a compressed form of concrete that you would see that has, those kind of two holes in the middle of it. And they’re often used in kind of supporting walls or other aspects of buildings. Ready mix…
Raymond: Look like big silver bricks.
Eric: Yeah, exactly. And, it’s the one you would see kind of in the yard, or would have been, around the fireplace or something back in the day. And then now, when we’re talking about ready mix, what that is, that’s anything you see in those mixer trucks. So it’s freshly made, and it’s delivered on-site in a plastic state. So if you’ve ever seen, construction in an urban center, where you see those pipes going up, and the concrete is being poured, and it’s fluid looking, that would be what we would call ready mix concrete. And it’s typically then cast in place at those sites and it will harden over time. And then the final one that we would consider would be what they would call precast. And precast is effectively you just do that ready mix type approach, but you let it harden and become a product on your own manufacturing site before you would ship it away.
So those would often be things like, you see those medians on the highway or things like that, where they’re kind of repeating units or you can make them all they all are basically the same kind of subunit. That’s very common for precast products because you can just make them in bulk and then they’re being shipped off of your property already made. So that’s typically the difference and so a lot of commercial buildings will be primarily ready mix concrete, although recently in the last several years precast concrete has also become popular for these modular units and, subcomponents of buildings.
Raymond: Yeah, so here at Compass we use precast walls for our data centers, just as you described, they get manufactured off-site. We believe that off-site manufacturing helps with speed but also helps with waste and sustainability and making a cleaner, faster, easier job site. So we use precast panels to build the walls for our data centers, which is I think, how we got introduced to CarbonCure. I think of precast, I see those, like storm drains or storm pipes that you see driving by on a truck. They look like these big cylinders. And they slide in together. That’s all precast right?
Eric: Yeah, the culvert style would very likely be precast. And as you said, one of the key benefits of the precast approach is the speed of delivery because you’re not waiting for the concrete to cure over time through the ready mix approach. So that if you’re interested in constructing quickly and efficiently, you can have these reusable forms for precast that can then take the end product aside and it’s already pre-made weeks or months in advance so you can then just erect them fairly quickly.
Raymond: All right, I know I’m maybe spending too much time on cement and concrete. But I caught a couple more concrete questions. So I see when ready mix comes out of the machine right? What I’ve always called the cement truck and from now on, will call the concrete truck. When I see the concrete truck pull up and it starts pouring this liquid or almost slushy like material out I often see it going over a metal grid that looks like they’ve laid the rebar in place there. What’s going on there?
Eric: Yeah, so the rebar is providing a structural reinforcement. And so that’s one of the benefits of the ready mix approach is that you can combine the steel frame with the concrete itself to provide additional strength properties.
Eric: And so this is also another cool thing. And I’ll just dial back to the whole CO2 discussion again for a second. Because one thing that a lot of people might intuitively understand is that CO2 on its own is actually fairly acidic. So things with CO2 in it will become a lower pH. And one of the key things about concrete is that it’s typically a very high pH. So one of the good things about it, when you use it with steel is that it doesn’t rust or corrode. And one concerns has been, a common concern we get is, well, if I use CO2 in my concrete, will I then get my rebar rusting? Because the pH is dropping? And the answer to that is no, it actually doesn’t have that effect at all. So that’s another cool thing that Sean and Rob would have been researching over years to prove and demonstrate but that isn’t a concern.
Raymond: So how long when we, let’s just think about pouring a slab, what are we talking about for that thing to be dry and ready and hard. And in its final state, how long is that concrete sitting before it turns into the final product?
Eric: It can really vary. And it depends a lot on what the usage is for or what the original mixture of materials that have gone into it. But typically, you would see testing done at a 28-day cycle. And typically, what you would see is that over the time that the concrete is aging, it’s becoming stronger and stronger. So those dates of when you would do the testing are just kind of industry established guidelines that if it reaches a certain strength by 28 days, you can consider it to be, a good product and that it will have met the standard you’re looking for. But other tests are done, on 14 days, seven days or even you know, 56 days or longer and then concrete over time will continue to strengthen up to a certain point.
Raymond: So there’s known levels of curing that you should expect each one of those stages and you check-in. And if it’s there, you assume it’s good for the long term?
Raymond: Gotcha. Gotcha. Fascinating stuff. All right, a little more business talk. So CarbonCure your customers, are your customers in all three businesses? You have customers that are mixing, in the ready mix business, customers in the precast business, and…do you guys have customers that cover all three sectors?
Eric: We do, fortunately. So originally, the technology was targeted towards the masonry industry. And so they’ve been the most long standing partners we’ve had. Our current iteration of technology is really focused on the ready mix side of the equation. But recently, in the past a year or two, we’ve had three, or four, or five, or six, half dozen or so different precast producers come on board. And again, part of that is being driven by the interest that’s being seen and some sectors of the design community that just say, “If I can use this for ready mix, why can’t I use it for precast?” And so that’s an area we’re really actively exploring is how to expand our partnerships in the precast sector as well.
Raymond: Is a growth market for you guys. I looked and it seems to me that precast it has the ability to capture the most CO2. Is that a fair assessment? Am I saying that right?
Eric: I’m not certain the definitive answer to that. What I would say is that normally with precast, you would expect to see a higher level of cement in the original mix. So higher levels of cement would allow you to then have a greater, yes, reduction, and also a capture more because there’s just more cement in there.
Raymond: Gotcha capture more CO2. All right. So 13 years in, Rob and Sean are blowing and going. What’s the, and I think you said sales have doubled every year since ’16. Is that right?
Eric: Correct. Yes.
Raymond: So let’s get back a little bit you’d mentioned that you handled government relations. You talked about Hawaii and New York being on the front edge. What’s the future…? I think you also said 50% to 70% of all concrete is procured by government entities. So they’re a huge part of the market. What does that side of the business look like both from a regulation standpoint and from penetrating those customer bases and getting them to see the environmental benefits of what CarbonCure is doing?
Eric: Sure. So an important thing to understand with concrete is that, this is a very old business people have been doing this since the Roman times really was when this was first discovered. As an older industry, there’s a lot of things that have been, become standardized protocols or practices. And the whole industry is governed by fairly stringent regulatory standards and engineering frameworks and requirements. And that’s all for a very good reason. Because, obviously, the problem that might occur if you do something that messes up your concrete for 30 story building isn’t something that anybody wants to see happen.
So really, the question is, is that we have this interesting dichotomy in the industry where we have these very stringent standards that are governed by regulatory bodies and governments and all sorts of different people that are meant to keep the consistency of concrete at a level that’s acceptable so that you would see the performance you’re looking for. The only downside of that approach is that that approach focuses on safety and engineering, technical details, but it has never really traditionally considered the environmental impact of those approaches. And again, what it can do is that if I say, “Thou shalt make me this type of cake.” And maybe you say, “I want a chocolate cake.” And the producer then has to make it exactly to the way that you specified it. So if you say it needs to have this much flour, it needs to have these many eggs, and that’s what you get.
But if you came and said, “Well, actually, I just want the best tasting cake for the same price.” Somebody else could make you that product, maybe even better than you imagined. But they can’t if you tell them exactly how to do it. And that’s kind of the same issue that we have in the industry is that a lot of the standards that exists say very definitively, “Thou shalt use this much cement and thou shalt use this much water.” And that’s exactly what you get. And that gives us consistency. But what it doesn’t do is really allow any innovation or doesn’t really allow a lot of flexibility. And with these new technologies that are coming online in the market, there’s becoming a lot of different options that didn’t exist before.
So really a lot of our challenge, and I think the industry’s challenge as a whole, is how do we inform and educate and engage and help people understand what flexibility is needed to allow these new innovations to prosper without sacrificing all those very necessary concerns or considerations around safety and dependability and reliability and all those very good, engineering principles that we all should be adhering to? So that I would say is really the primary challenge the industry has to become greener. And I think from our perspective, what our mission is as an organization is that we are committed to achieving a 500 megaton CO2 reduction every year, year over year, so that’s our objective as an organization. And to do that, what we will need to do is introduce our technology to as many plants as possible across North America and the world. And part of that is again, demonstrating to these concrete producers that they can both use our technology, the way that we advertise it, and also be able to sell it to their customers so that they can then, also profit from using it. So that’s the primary challenge we have in the upcoming years. And from our perspective, we believe that our technology can be used in any concrete plant today.
There’s nothing technically limiting that. But the issue that we have to overcome is just, all of these different regulatory bodies and all of just the market acceptance of, “Can I do this? How will I do this? And is there anything I should be worried about with this?” That’s just a common concern that is always going to be addressed.
Raymond: So Eric, if I understand you, right, maybe the government affairs part of your job is the most important because if they’re the largest user, and we do business with government entities as well, they can be very prescriptive like you’d said, give me four eggs, give me two cups of water. Instead of saying give me the best concrete possible. Getting those entities to understand there’s a better way to bake the cake, to hang on to our analogy, is the biggest challenge and the one that can lead to the most advancement, this 500 megaton reduction goal. With more than half of the concrete being used by government entities, that’s probably the most important focus as I hear you talk about your job every day.
Eric: There’s no question that any kind of government regulation or directive that would steer the industry towards this approach would obviously have a massive impact. The only thing I think I would shy away from is that, we don’t want to make the same mistake. I don’t even wanna call it a mistake. But we don’t want to be locked into the same thinking that is limiting the deployment of this technology. So there’s a new regulation that just says, “Thou shalt do x,” that might in turn in a few years preclude a different type of technology or maybe an advanced version of technology that we have from getting the same foothold. So I think really, what we need governments to understand is that how do you acclimatize to this pace of innovation and still maintain the standards without necessarily blocking innovation and that innovation could come in all different kinds of ways.
So I guess that would be my one concern is that I wouldn’t want to see governments set a very restrictive model as to what they will then allow in incremental phases, but trying to understand a way that would allow them to adapt more readily and that we don’t have to fight this battle every time there’s a new change to the industry.
Raymond: Yeah, fascinating. Give us flexibility to deliver the performance you need. And let’s let technology improve our performance over time instead of telling me how many eggs and how many cups of water.
Eric: Exactly. Unfortunately, what I will say is that, when you look at data centers, and owners like yourselves or others in the industry, the technology industry in particular, has been incredibly supportive of this type of approach and other approaches like it, and it’s really invested and put their money where their mouth is in terms of trying to do things differently. And I think, again, like the private sector obviously has much more flexibility in adopting innovations quickly. And what we’re seeing is that, this increased attention to climate and emissions based issues, both my Compass and by other members of the technology community is really starting to have an effect driving the industry forward. So, I just wanted to thank you both for being interested in sustainability writ large, and also other members of the industry.
Because I think it’s really important that as a technology industry, I think the world often looks to the technology sector as leaders of tomorrow in terms of what is possible for human society. And I think it’s really great that one of the key tenets that seems to be underpinning a lot of this continuous technological revolution is a focus on sustainability.
Raymond: Yeah, thank you for that Eric. No question sustainability has been key to us from the beginning of Compass and the reality is the world’s not getting less digitized. No one’s throwing away their data. No one’s getting rid of their iPhones or their Netflix. And so if it’s going to continue to grow, how do we do it in a way that has the least amount of impact on our planet and ultimately on our grandkids’ future? Super, super helpful. Great explanations, Eric, great insight. We’re really, really grateful that you could join us. I certainly hope that you get some more Lake time and some more cottage time before the fall comes and the weather turns. And I think it might be interesting to have Rob and Sean, join us maybe for another edition of the podcast to talk even in more depth because this was fascinating and really, really cool science.
Really, really cool ethics behind why and one really early stages, right? There’s so much to do in the future. And I loved your comment too, about “Let’s not prescribe again, the technology keeps changing. Let’s be ready for innovation in all of the future and how we do concrete.” Now. I know that concrete, it’s not cement. So, Eric thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.
Eric: Fantastic. Thank you, Raymond. I appreciate it.
Raymond: All right, take care man.
Eric: Thank you. You too.
Raymond: Bye, bye.