Low carbon block could answer concrete problems

Low carbon block could answer concrete problems

For builders looking for low-carbon footprint products, a new concrete block alternative could be the answer.

Watershed Materials has developed a cutting-edge approach to solving one of the building industry’s largest environmental problems—the huge CO2 footprint of concrete blocks. Tens of billions of concrete blocks are produced every year for millions of residential and commercial projects. The principle ingredient of concrete blocks is cement, a material with such a high carbon footprint that it alone is responsible for 6% of all CO2 emissions. Sustainability aside, concrete blocks fail to trigger positive aesthetic responses from architects and users.

The Watershed Block by Watershed Materials, was selected as a finalist in the Greentech category for SXSW Eco’s entrepreneurial pitch competition, the Startup Showcase, taking place on October 6-7, 2014 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas.

The Watershed Block presents a solution to the problem of embedded CO2 in standard concrete products. The Watershed block is a versatile masonry units manufactured from crushed rock, earth, recycled concrete, and a host of other inexpensive raw materials.

Read about a study of the carbon footprint in residential building.

Watershed Materials’ first generation product, the Watershed Block, was designed as a direct replacement for the industry standard concrete block, while offering distinct improvements including less cement, less transportation, higher LEED ratings, lowered carbon footprint, and the look of natural stone. Watershed Block can be produced anywhere in the world from an infinite range of soil, crushed rock, or even demolished buildings.

Watershed Block coming off the production line in the pilot factory in Napa, California. Watershed Block are the same size and offer the same structural characteristics of a traditional concrete block.

The first home built entirely of Watershed Block in Napa, California sustained no structural damage during the recent magnitude 6.0 earthquake centered just miles from the home’s location. Not only did the home survive the earthquake with no structural damage, there was no damage to any of the contents inside the home during the area’s strongest earthquake in over twenty years.

The technology builds on decades of experience with Rammed Earth. In nature, rock is produced as pressure accumulates and loose soil grains are fused together into solid stone. Watershed Materials has developed a manufacturing technology that mimics this natural process in a factory environment by applying intense pressure to special soil blends consisting of natural clays and other minerals. The process produces dependable structural block with the strength and durability of concrete and with 65 percent less embodied energy. With support of the National Science Foundation, Watershed Materials is researching and developing the technology to produce beautiful structural masonry block with zero cement.

“I’ve spent 35 years launching technologies to improve the buildings we live in. Watershed Materials is the best yet,” says president David Easton. “We’re building something beautiful and resource conserving, and architects are loving it.”

Read more about foundations and wall systems.

Topics: Bedroom, Foundations, Insulated Concrete Forms - ICF

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