December 27, 2022

The startup leading a building materials sea change that is helping the Earth breathe

The Bahamas occupies the azure waters stretching between Florida and Cuba. Behind its paradisal image of luxurious seaside resorts and constant flock of tourists, this country is suffering from the most extreme effects of global warming – in 2019, monster-level Hurricane Dorian pounded the Bahamas hard, killing 30 people and leaving thousands homeless, a wound the nation has yet to recover from.  

Insufficient CO2 reduction efforts are leading us “on the highway to climate hell”

The Bahamas are just one of many countries facing the dire consequences of global warming.  

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in “climate vulnerable” areas around the world, including parts of Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, island nations, and the Arctic. And these places face the casualties of disasters like floods, drought, and hurricanes.

At this year’s COP27 climate summit, the cover picture of the latest UN climate report titled “The Closing Window” presents a stark but potent image representing what is happening on our planet: a small window surrounded by smoke looking on a swath of blue sky is closing, the escape ladder below it quickly falling apart. One look at the picture and the viewer feels uncomfortable and out of breath.  

The meaning of the image is clear and direct: our time window is closing, and if major change is not made, it will lead to serious climate disaster. 

According to the UN, human society currently has no means of stopping the Earth’s temperature from rising beyond 1.5°C. If left unchecked, the temperature will rise by approximately 2.8°C by the end of the century. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres puts it more bluntly: “We are on a highway to climate hell, with our foot on the accelerator.”

But change is happening, if quietly

The change we are discussing was initiated by Partanna, a startup founded by former NBA star and a citizen of The Bahamas, Rick Fox and architect Sam Marshall. Not only are the building materials developed by Partanna having a revolutionary impact on the century-old cement and construction industries, they might be a major solution to rising carbon emissions. 

High CO2 emitters like the cement industry can be net zero pioneers 

Concrete, whose key component is cement, is the most widely used man-made material on earth, and the second largest consumable after drinking water. The chemical reaction and high-temperature combustion created during the concrete production process release a large amount of greenhouse gasses, and the resulting carbon emissions account for about 9% of the global total. If the world is to halve its emissions before 2030, then the cement industry is obligated to take up a big share of the burden.

A tweak in raw materials is subverting the cement industry

Partanna co-founder Sam Marshall is an architect. Eight years ago, he discovered that when combined with steel waste, brine –  the byproduct of seawater desalination – can be turned into a new building material. This discovery opened the road to entrepreneurship. Using brine as a building material not only solves the high emissions problem, but also makes coastal housing in areas most vulnerable to extreme climate weather more resistant to hurricanes and seawater erosion.

Unlike traditional building materials, Partanna does not need to use Portland cement in the concrete creation process, and therefore does not require high-temperature combustion, naturally reducing emissions to a minimum.

Zero emissions and monetized carbon credits 

Due to its unique qualities, this new type of building material can directly remove CO2 from the air (direct air capture, DAC) after a house is built at a faster rate than other materials. Compared to a house built with traditional concrete, a 1,250 square foot house made with Partanna’s building materials can remove 22.5 tons of CO2, creating the world’s only truly carbon-negative house.

 Partanna said that the revenue generated from the credits will be used in various social impact projects. The company also hopes to help low-income families solve the problem of finding affordable housing.

The world’s first carbon negative housing project is happening in the Bahamas

At the recent COP27 climate summit held in Egypt, The Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis personally announced that his government will partner with Partanna to create the world’s first negative carbon housing development plan, which will involve building a thousand houses made of Partanna building materials. Philip Davis noted at the summit that the Bahamas is the first to bear the brunt of the climate crisis, and bluntly stated: “We don’t have time to wait for others to save us.”

Global warming is sounding the alarm, and a rapid sea change in carbon reduction is critical. To achieve the goal of net zero emissions by 2050, more urgent and game-changing approaches are needed. Through the use of revolutionary building materials, the future cement industry can also become a zero-carbon pioneer and build an Earth where all mankind can breathe.

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