Green Cement: Near Reality Or Just A Dream?

Cement is everywhere. The foundations of our buildings, the driveways that lead beyond suburban garage doors, the walls of our schools, and the mortar joints between every brick we lay contain a binding substance we call Portland cement. Cement is the binding agent used to hold together the tough aggregate (rocky gravel) in the concrete we can use for just about everything in modern construction. It seems harmless enough. We don’t have to cut down trees to build with it. It isn’t particularly full of toxins, and is incredibly durable and long lasting, but the environmental cost of concrete is astronomical.

The basic process for making cement heats limestone (calcium carbonate or CaCO3) in a kiln to well over 2550F. This process not only requires enormous amounts of fuel, but also releases literal tons of CO2 as it separates the limestone into its constituents, lime and carbon dioxide. The manufacture of cement releases a terrifying 9kg of CO2 for every 10kg of cement produced, but if building with wood is not as strong or durable and involves all the sticky business of cutting trees and building with concrete is nearly an environmental abomination. What is the world to do?

Our hope may lie with Brent Constantz and his California company Calera. Calera is creating cement that actually reduces the amount of CO2 put into the air by power plants. Their location, across the street from a major Californian power plant, siphons smoke stack emissions from the power plant, runs the gas through oil rig or brackish water, and the salts and minerals from the water bond with the carbon dioxide in the gas to precipitate out limestone in much the same way that mother nature does it. What he gets is cement, hard aggregate for making concrete, and water that is already a step toward being purified for drinking thus reducing the time and energy needed to return it to a potable state. The cement can be used just like Portland cement, for new buildings or even just patch jobs.

The process is actually quite complicated, but at its heart is the same thing that happens naturally over millions of years to produce the limestone we use for all of our building needs. Constantz claims that for every pound of CO2 produced by the production of regular cement, his process removes three. Will the process be as elegant and efficient when operating at full scale? Is the cement really the same as our time-tested Portland cement? Will it be affordable? Calera insists “yes” is the answer, but only time will tell.

Calera is expanding its production and preparing to subject its products to concrete industry scrutiny. Meanwhile the energy sector, environmentalists, and polar bears alike all hold their breath hoping for a happy conclusion to the story. Cement may eventually become the new boom in green building materials, but we’re a long way from knowing just how this battle is going to end. Super green or not, Calera has to demonstrate that this process for producing cement is practical and affordable to be able to be competitive in the concrete industry, and that will be the true test that determines whether or not green cement is real or just a dream.

Ten ways to save the Big Island. (Hawaii Island)

Hawaii Business November 1, 1992 | Chang, Diane Hawaii Business takes a look at suggested buoys for a floundering economy.

It’s hard to worry about the future when reveling in the pleasant–which is exactly what the Big Island, along with the rest of the state, did for much of the last decade. Contractors saw only major projects in an extended pipeline, many financed by the powerful Japanese yen. The South Kohala coast became a fantasy resort where guests cavorting with dolphins helped create an image of Hawaii as an overpriced destination. And in Congress, our representatives continued to trade in precious political chits to beg U.S. trade restrictions for a sugar industry turned professional panhandler.

What a difference a few months make. In a newly sobered Hawaii, winds that have shifted toward recession bring the Big Island a chance to take a breath, confront its economic lethargy and consider other industries to nurture in the 1990s. The island must rechart its destiny by looking at alternative business bases–and there are many. Here we present 10 suggestions, compiled after interviews with business leaders, planners, scholars, economists, bankers and government officials. They are listed in no particular order of popularity or feasibility: Some are budding possibilities, some struggling and deserving of attention and aid, others ripe for development in the near future. here big island hawaii


If more golf courses belong anywhere in the state, they should be on Hawaii County’s rolling acres. The island has the space and the climate, especially on the west side, to be a duffer’s haven. A golf course can represent an initial investment of $10 million to $100 million, generate 25 to 30 jobs, encourage interisland travel, bring in steady tax revenues, and create an attractive greenbelt.

But these projects suffer a reputation of being elitist, polluting oceans and water tables, and displacing more noble causes such as affordable housing and agricultural ventures. For their part, developers are wary of arbitrary government impositions (which the county labels community benefit assessments, or what one local banker calls blackmail). Notes Tom Yamamoto, chief operating officer of developer Nansay Hawaii, “On the Big Island, I have a $3-million assessment. As part of that, we bought a $1.2-million (air medevac) helicopter for the county and will build a hangar for $600,000 to $800,000.” The assessments haven’t dissuaded Nansay from building its six courses, but smaller developers have backed off from their plans. The situation gives golf course proponents a tough PR job. “Basically it’s an education issue,” says Richard West, Bank of Hawaii regional manager/vice president. “Some opponents of the idea will never change their minds. But I believe if we can educate those who may be on the fence or not totally familiar with all of the benefits involved, we can hopefully counter some of the anti-development sentiment out there.” In line with this thrust are continuing efforts to bring the best available technology–and people–to the field of golf course maintenance. The island’s course superintendents have unified to set and publicize standards of management in direct response to environmental concerns. “What we’ve done is put a face out there to answer questions and concerns,” says Neil Bustamante, golf course superintendent for Mauna Lani Resort and spokesman for the Golf Course Superintendents Association. “By doing so we’ve quieted some of the hysteria.” 2. BECKON BRAINPOWER. It’s not a stretch to envision the Big Island as an incubator for big ideas. Rich in seclusion, it could be marketed as a receptive locale for world scholars and leaders to discuss topics from global warming to cultural diversity. A Hilo businessman notes such setups are already bringing “eggheads” to The Aspen Institute in Punaluu’s Sea Mountain; other projects are being considered. Barry Raleigh, dean of the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, is promoting a research laboratory for renewable energy and ocean technology at Keahole Point. Mauna Lani Resort Inc., owned by Japan’s Tokyu Corp., wants to establish an international think tank at the center of its $147-million Mauna Lani Cove project.

Tapping brainpower is a clean industry. Better yet, the Big Island might become the fulcrum on which important problems are balanced and solutions put forth. That kind of international reputation would be a giant step in making Hawaii a true crossroads of the Pacific. But some serious image-changing may be in order first. “The attitude needs to be ingrained in the people of Hawaii and elsewhere that this is not just a place where you come to play,” says Victor Li, former president of the East-West Center. “Serious work is done here and very valuable work, especially in linking the U.S. and Asia.” 3. GRADUATE TO BIGGER LEAGUES. The Big Island will never be a serious player without a higher degree of support for higher education. The University of Hawaii at Hilo should be strengthened, possibly by moving from the Manoa campus key colleges and curricula such as tropical agriculture and astronomy. Frustrated by insufficient attention and funding priorities given their campus, some county lawmakers, businesspeople and others believe UH-Hilo should go as far as to become a separate Hawaii State University, with its own board of regents and administration. UH-Hilo now funnels at least $50 million annually into the Big Island economy, employs about 600 workers and educates 2,850 students; it faces growing demand for more programs amid a pressing islandwide need for healthy, stable industries.

But the movement to decentralize the UH system will never gain momentum without the support of the Honolulu-based Board of Regents. Its members continue to embrace the notion that it’s too expensive to duplicate or move programs to neighbor island campuses not yet fully developed. For various reasons they shun, for instance, the consideration that it’s natural to move the tropical ag school to an island that grows 60 percent of the state’s crops, or that astronomy should be studied near world-class star-gazing observatories on Mauna Kea. As long as the regents withhold commitment to UH-Hilo’s significant expansion or possible independence, there will be no real momentum toward this vital economic goal.

Cuts in the UH system’s state funding cast a different light on the issue. Legislator Harvey Tajiri isn’t the only Big Islander proposing a decidedly private-sector bent in fund-raising for a Hawaii State University. Tajiri’s plan includes allowing the regents to go to corporations and foreign governments to raise development monies. “Sure, the startup costs are the biggest problem. But if you say you’re determined to create a state university in Hilo, you can do it,” says Al Nishimura, senior vice president and regional supervisor of First Hawaiian Bank’s Hawaii Island branches. “It all doesn’t have to be taxpayers’ money. If we decide to have a two-school system, and Manoa is built up, any new benefactor that comes along should be directed to where the needs are. How many benefactors have been turned off because there wasn’t room or need at Manoa?” 4. SHOOT FOR THE STARS. Thanks to an advantage bestowed by nature, astronomy has skyrocketed into one of the island’s thriving moneymakers. The major science industry employs 200 people and represents a combined budget of more than $20 million a year. It attracts international participation and opportunities for the island’s young people, ranging from jobs to the recognition of potential careers outside of sugar and tourism.

Well-planned growth atop Mauna Kea should be encouraged, as well as upcoming support facilities at UH-Hilo’s University Park. The current and future capacity of the volcanic peak needs careful evaluation by planners, and adjunct business ventures within the astronomy community, such as mirror polishing and cutting, need to be encouraged.

5. CONCOCT NEW ATTRACTIONS. The Big Island visitor industry may have become complacent with its bridesmaid role to Waikiki Beach and could use some selective stirring up. Tourism leaders must more aggressively promote their attractions and come up with new experiences that capitalize on the island’s natural strengths.

Innovative thinking and tour packaging, for example, could help keep foreign visitors for longer than a day. Even at play, many Japanese tourists want itineraries to include highlights of the historical richness of their vacation spots. Some enterprising tour company might tap into the Japanese penchant for theme tours by assembling a scientific package that spans sky (the observatories), sea (the NELHA ocean science park) and volcano.

More promotional dollars should be channeled to reap greater benefits from annual events with established international reputations, such as the Ironman Triathlon, Merrie Monarch hula festival and the Kona coffee celebration. And new attractions should be nurtured, particularly those such as plans to reconstitute Honomu into a working plantation town, complete with retailing of products including locally grown coffee and macadamia nuts. Photographer David Cornwell, who was active in the Hawaii’s Plantation Village restoration in Waipahu, is an avid supporter of Honomu’s rebuilding by a group of Honolulu investors. “When you preserve Hawaii’s evolution and origins, you’re doing more than creating visitor attractions,” says Cornwell. “You’re embracing the local population. They’re going to have a town that is revitalized because it’s going to create jobs for them.” 6. ENCOURAGE DIVERSITY. The Big Island has the potential to be the state’s breadbasket, but its farmers deserve considerably more respect and encouragement. Diversified agriculture collectively generates the same revenues as sugar, and Hawaii County grows the vast majority of the state’s output of non-sugar and -pineapple crops. But pestilence, worldwide competition, depressed prices and whims of nature in recent years have consistently battered homegrown produce. “This is a challenging time, but it’s also a time of opportunity,” says Millie Kim, the county’s director of research and development. “With Hilo Coast Processing and Hamakua Sugar either pulling back on their volume or phasing out, that will open up a whole bunch of land that can be divided into smaller ag-lot parcels.” Land availability, however, is not enough to help this sector. Changes must be made in county zoning codes to allow ag subdivisions to be developed more easily. Money and attention need to be shifted toward improving transportation systems for agricultural products, marketing against worldwide competition, and providing tax incentives to encourage entry into this field. In addition, just as the Hawaii Visitors Bureau promotes the state’s tourism inventory, a similar strategic marketing body needs to be developed specifically for agriculture. website big island hawaii

The private sector can make accommodations, too. Island supermarkets and restaurants should regularly feature and serve locally grown produce (Sharwil avocados, as an example, instead of similar fruit imported from California). Landowners should take note as well. “We need to get land cheaper,” says Sotero Agoot, manager of the Kona Farmers Cooperative. “I lease property from Bishop Estate, but they won’t lease the land for more than 15 years. A longer lease would help.” And of course, farmers themselves must take some of the responsibility by becoming a cohesive group with a lobbying presence at the state Legislature.

7. BEEF UP A WOUNDED INDUSTRY. Local ranchers have a lot to beef about. As First Hawaiian’s Nishimura puts it, this industry has historically been allocated “the junkest of junk lands that are zoned agricultural” on which to produce cattle. It’s no wonder that this segment of diversified agriculture has been branded as one in decline.

Big Islanders harbor mixed feelings about whether the industry is worth saving. Cattle-ranching may not be the most cost-effective venture, partly perhaps because its participants have not been afforded the guidance, or because it needs some breaks. For example, concerted efforts might open up gateways to the Far East. “As costly as it is to produce beef in Hawaii, the Japanese market alone–if we had access to it–could be one in which we could compete,” says Paul Brewbaker, associate economist at Bank of Hawaii.

In the meantime, ranchers have tried to focus on more promising offshoots of their business. The climate allows them to graze calves year-round–which cannot be done on the mainland–and then ship the animals to other states for fattening and slaughter. More innovation, niche-marketing and access to cheaper, more desirable lands (perhaps former sugar fields) can steer this sector toward greener pastures.

8. HOME IN ON HOUSING. Once a medley of new industries has been established, with accompanying prospects in jobs and education, affordable-housing developers should be wooed. Providing homes for local residents can have favorable social impacts, like stemming the outmigration of state taxpayers–many of them between the peak earning ages of 25 and 55–to cheaper homes on the West Coast, in Nevada and the Midwest. “When people buy a house they start a cycle: Homeowners have pride of ownership and also become more active members of the community,” says Mike Jones, senior vice president of developer James K. Schuler & Associates. “When you’re a renter, you’re a bit of a vagabond.” Accommodating “vagabonds” has its own significant benefits apart from the obvious one of increasing housing inventory for all income classes. Schuler’s 177-unit Paniolo Estates project in Waikoloa represents about $15 million to $20 million in construction costs, with about 75 percent of that disbursed among Big Island contracting firms. Jones estimates the project will employ 100 to 150 people for one and a half years.

The homebuilding business is beset by problems now, but they could be alleviated. Start by increasing the availability of developable land. Clarify and streamline permitting and zoning processes. Reevaluate mandated features such as those involving curbs, gutters, lighting and sidewalks. Granted, it’s a standoff situation: Who’s going to pay for infrastructure improvements, the county or the developer? But government should take a hard look at restrictions and assessments that either kill the project’s feasibility, or whose cost is passed on to the ones who can least afford it–prospective buyers who have little chance otherwise for homeownership in Hawaii.

9. CHANGE THEIR LIVES. The Big Island can work to attract a spectrum of new populations ranging from working refugees from fast-paced Honolulu to retirees looking for a cheaper, quieter haven. To some degree, these trends are already taking hold. Three years ago, Jan Kama left her job as a corporate assistant cashier at First Interstate Bank in Honolulu to work for Bob and Mike Fujimoto at HPM Building Supply, and despite a hefty pay cut has never regretted the decision. Says Kama, “My family has a better lifestyle than on Oahu. It’s less stressful, less expensive and a better environment for raising my son.” Calling suburban transplants and elderly snowbirds from the mainland, however, means addressing infrastructure shortfalls and improving recreational and medical facilities. “There are many demands on the health-care system, and there are some cultural effects that may be disruptive,” says Bank of Hawaii’s West. “These and other considerations would make me feel that we should encourage this, but on a reasonable basis.” 10. ATTRACT REAL HOMEBODIES. The Big Island could use more residents like Ralph Testa. In 1980, Testa moved from Oahu to become a field representative for CUNA Mutual Insurance Group. “When I became the state manager in 1991, the company looked at the possibility of moving me back to Honolulu, where 80 percent of the credit unions are located,” he says. “We looked at the economics and decided because of my reach-ability by computer, fax and cellular phone, it really didn’t matter where I was based.” Today, Testa runs the credit unions’ insurance company from his home outside Hilo. He works on marketing and sales-oriented projects for the state–keeping in contact with corporate headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin, his constituency on all islands and his office staff in downtown Honolulu–via two phone lines, an IBM computer with modem, a fax machine and a cellular phone.

The Big Island needs to jump through this window of opportunity if it wants to attract other Ralph Testas. Its telecommunications support system must be improved in the near future, for example, by establishing a reliable power supply, adding vital business capabilities like call-forwarding and improving noisy telephone connections that cause interference when modeming information. “Once I lost the line three times,” notes Testa. If the private and public sectors target this area for technical improvements, the payoff for both can be enormous.

CHANGE THE BIG ISLAND. Not everyone will agree that these suggestions are viable, but they are a start, and an attempt to shake up the status quo. It’s too simple to say it can’t be done. Long-term thinking is far better than short-term, Band-Aid measures with far-reaching ramifications.

By pursuing ideas with economic promise, the Big Island can ready itself for the upswing around the corner. Given adequate support and resources, these 10 industries have the potential to save the Big Island from a fate worse than debt: terminal short-sightedness, stop-gap measures and continued economic mediocrity.

Chang, Diane

About the Author

is a green and general blog writer. He also maintains a personal cooking blog. Find Chris on Google
  • Chris,

    You may want to call a company called Planteco in Athens, GA. They already have a patented Green ( Eco Cement) that is remarkable. It has every quality of Portland but is 20% lighter and made of totally recycled materials

  • Helarisi

    As it is reported, CO2 is absorbed by brackish water, precipitation CaCO3.  It shows that the process helps to solve the CO2 problem and produces CaCO3. However it is not clear why this CaCO3 is considered cement. Some may clarify the point.

  • Ecbatana

    Planteco website shows nothing about green cement or concrete on their website. I sent a question through their contact page, but no response yet.

  • Nobend

    Brent Constantz on the Piss in his office.

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