Could you green the world brick by brick?

One California-based company is going to try. And they're going to make those "green" bricks in Wisconsin, not ship them in from China.
Written by Harry Fuller, Contributor

One California-based company is going to try. And they're going to make those "green" bricks in Wisconsin, not ship them in from China. The new-fangled brick has been pioneered by CalStar Products. A basic ingredient of the CalStar brick is coal ash, residue from burning coal. There are huge mounds, huge ponds, huge heaps of it all over coal-burning states in the U.S. I recently spoke with CalStar's CEO, Michael Kane, a veteran of decades in the building supply industry. As I've heard from innovators in wallboard and windows and other materials: the new, green product has to look and act and handle just like the energy-sucker it replaces.

Photo courtesy CalStar.

Mr. Kane tells me they've got the process locked down now at CalStar and much of the research work involved chemistry. What it doesn't involve is a huge waste of energy. Kane explained current bricks are made with a three thousand year old technology that means firing each brick for a day or longer at around 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. That's how the energy gets sucked up. CalStar's building materials are produced with a chemical process that takes place at temperatures below that of boiling water (that would be about 212 degrees at sea level). Kane is very proud of the fact that his will be the first standard-strength, meet-all-requirements, building brick in America to NOT go through a super-hot kiln. His energy costs will be a fraction of what competitors must pay. BUILDING THE BUSINESS CalStar has numerous distributors lined up. In January they expect to begin moving bricks out of their production plant in Caledonia, near Racine, Wisconsin. The early rounds of financing came from Foundation Capital and other VCs. Kane's hopeful the new push from Washington for less greenhouse gas emission will help his firm. It could lead to much higher production costs for traditional brick makers and their super-hot drying kilns.

(Courtesy CalStar) HOw do CalSTar bricks stack up against the competition? Kane says each of his bricks has a carbon footprint of 0.2 pounds while a standard kiln-fired brick produces 1.3 pounds. He points out that production of builidng materials like bricks, cement, nails, paint, roofing, windows and lumber account for over 10% of America's total carbon footprint, far more than all our highway vehicles combined. So drastically reducing that carbon footprint for a major construction component is significant. COAL ASH? I had to ask, coal ash? Bad stuff, isn't it? Dumped into rivers, leaching into the soil, not good. Kane says his firm has done considerable work on the handling of coal ash. Their final products, he says, are inert with no leaching of any chemicals from the coal ash that is locked into the products chemically and permanently. CalStar, Kane says, is the answer to the coal industry coal ash pollution problems. The CalStar facory in Wisconsin will get its coal ash from the nearby low-sulphur coal-burner at operated Oak Creek. That's operated by Wisconsin Energy. Kane says his bricks are up to 40% recycled coal ash. Many bricks use only fresh raw materials, the average recycled content is below 10% in the American brick biz. And the result of all this innovation? Well, the mainstream bricks boys do not like CalStar and want to prevent from the use of the very word "brick." Maybe something like Recycled Coal Fly Ash Unkilned Contruction Module? RCFAUCM? Sorry, bricksters, after 3000 years, it's probably time for a little change. But if it looks like a brick, and acts like a brick...? Here is the reply from BIA, Brick Industry Association. CalStar is practicing piracy and I am follisht o think these coal ash products will hold up, unti lthere's significant field testing.

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