Shortly after I posted my blog on CalStar making building materials from coal ash, I heard from the American Brick Industry Association (BIA). They feel CalStar is ripping off centuries of brick brand equity. Here is the email with BIA's side of the brick business:
"I wanted to voice our disappointment in reading the post, 'Could you green the world brick by brick?' since the Brick Industry Association, the 75 year old trade association and recognized authority on clay brick, was never contacted. Because your blog omits several key points, we request that you revise your blog and include some of the information from our association to lend some balance.
"For example, the statement 'if looks like a brick and acts like a brick,' is completely baseless. In fact, Calstar is pirating thousands of years of brand equity in their use of the term brick for two reasons. First, it is disingenuous to lump clay and fly ash together as “brick” materials because they behave quite differently in the environment. Second, Calstar is banking on people’s longstanding perceptions of brick as a proven sturdy and durable material. As you point out, Calstar has yet to manufacture one unit of their product, and no test results of a building built with this material exist to our knowledge. Without any real-world proof whatsoever, how can anyone automatically presume that the fly ash product will weather the elements like real clay brick?
"Additionally, it is totally inaccurate to imply that brick technology hasn't changed in the last 3,000 years. Brick is much stronger today than it was just a few decades ago, and it only takes about 30% of the energy to extract, manufacture and deliver brick today as it did in 1970. Moreover, several brick manufacturers use fuels, such as methane gas collected from landfills, to help fire the kilns at brick manufacturing plants. And, unlike fly ash, brick is based on a made from abundant and natural clay and shale, not a waste by-product of one of the most fossil fuel-intensive, greenhouse gas emitting energy sources on the planet.
"For Calstar to not account for the energy burned to create the fly ash, because of the claim that the coal will be burned regardless, is totally insincere. It is impossible to omit the fact that a significant amount of energy has to be burned, somewhere along the production cycle, in order to create the fly ash waste by-product. After all, how will the fly ash unit be manufactured if our power is generated from other alternatives besides coal – such as wind or solar power?
"Mr. Fuller, time will tell whether the fly ash product becomes a viable material or if it follows the paths of asbestos shingles and synthetic stucco (aka EIFS). Regardless of the ultimate outcome, it is grossly premature to assume that this product "acts like a brick,” and we regret that no one thought it worthwhile to reach us. If you would like to speak to me now or in the future, though, please do not hesitate to contact me.
"Very truly yours,
Senior Director of Marketing and Communications
Brick Industry Association
I must in fairness point out that CalStar says their end product is very much like the end product of clay brick after the kiln firing as both products end up with something closer to glass than pottery. Obviously the final test will come in the field as CalStar products are put to use and either last or fail.
Here's the online version of the ASTM standrad for what's brick, what isn't. Here you can find a list of the tests that a "brick" must pass to meet ASTM standards. Now let's geek out on what actually makes up "brickness." Too bad Wittgenstein isn't still with us, he's be able to sort through the semantics for us.
CALSTAR SPEAKS FOR ITSELF
Late today CEO Kane of CalStar responded to the salvo from BIA. He thinks they are nervous about the coming competition. Then he wrote, "it is technically true that in its final brick form neither the fired brick not the unfired Calstar brick have any clay left in them – both are converted to a glassy phase clay-like substance and as such - [are] similar. Perhaps they [BIA] should re-name their product Fired Formerly Clay Bricks?"