Business

The Brick – Being reinvented at Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley sees a profitable future in the humble brick thanks to a low-energy production process that illustrates the greening of the U.S. technology capital.

Brick maker Calstar Products is heavy on PhDs and backed by venture capitalists whose vision is to create buildings less expensively and in a way that saves energy.

“We think it is time for a second industrial revolution,” said Paul Holland, a partner at Foundation Capital, which invested $7 million in Calstar. EnerTech Capital led another round that raised $8 million for the business.

calstar-productsCalstar Products Chief Executive Michael Kane stands next to submerged samples of experimental high tech bricks undergoing testing.Silicon Valley sees a profitable future in the humble brick thanks to a low-energy production process that illustrates the greening of the U.S. technology capital.

“We and dozens of others are trying to create green alternatives for all the things that happen in the building industry,” Holland said.Currently about 40 percent of U.S. energy use goes toward the heating, cooling and general operation of buildings.

Silicon Valley is finding high-tech ways to make age-old materials, pursuing carbon dioxide-eating concrete, windows that insulate better than walls, and wood substitutes.

The field is still new. Venture investments in green buildings have waxed and waned with the recession, but involved 45 deals worth about $350 million the past year, according to Cleantech Group LLC.

3,000-YEAR WAIT

Bricks have been made pretty much the same way for 3,000 years, until Calstar’s scientists came up with their new technique, said Chief Executive Michael Kane.

Ordinary bricks are fired for 24 hours at 2,000 degrees F (1,093 C) as part of a process that can last a week, while Calstar bricks are baked at temperatures below 212 F (100 C) and take only 10 hours from start to finish, Kane said.

The recipe incorporates large amounts of fly ash – a fluffy, powdery residue of burned coal at electric plants, that can otherwise wind up as a troublesome pollutant.

“Ours is a precise product” that relies on getting the chemistry right, said Amitabha Kumar, Calstar’s director of research and development.modern-technology-bricksCalstar’s Improved Bricks

The process of making the bricks, which look and feel like any other brick, requires 80 to 90 percent less energy and emits 85 percent less greenhouse gas than ordinary bricks, according to Calstar.

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Abhay N

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Abhay is the founder and managing editor of India Microfinance. He is passionate about microfinance, financial inclusion and social entrepreneurship in India.

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