Dealflow | July 5, 2024

Low-carbon cement and solar-powered steam startups tackle decarbonization with new funding

Lynnley Browning
Guest Author

Lynnley Browning

Heavy industry, such as steel, aluminum, cement and chemical manufacturing, makes up a quarter of US emissions, and 20% of global emissions. Those industrial processes, which rely on high heat generated by fossil fuels, are notoriously difficult to decarbonize.

But clean tech startups are making headway. 

Cambridge Electric Cement, or CEC, says it has engineered a way to make low carbon, recycled cement using the same furnaces deployed in steel recycling, a first for the industry. Concrete, the most widely used material on earth after water, accounts for up to 8% of global CO2 emissions, thanks to the huge emissions of its main ingredient, cement. 

UK-based CEC, which spun out of Cambridge University, garnered £2.25 million (nearly $2.87 million) in seed funding led by Zero Carbon Capital, alongside existing investors Legal & General, Cambridge Enterprise Ventures, Parkwalk Advisors, Delph25 and Almanac Ventures. Its production process, when used with clean energy, avoids the emissions produced by conventional kilns and leverages existing steelmaking infrastructure.

Circular cement

CEC takes concrete from demolished buildings, then crushes it to separate out its cement powder. The recovered powder is then used to replace the lime-based agent used in steel recycling. When the steel melts, it leaves a layer of material that is virtually identical to the basis of kiln-produced Portland cement, which is widely used in buildings, bridges and pavements.

The funding will allow CEC to industrialize production of its sustainable cement at a steel recycling facility in Cardiff, Wales, that’s owned by CELSA UK, part of Spain’s Celsa Group, a multinational recycled steel producer. CEC plans to work with its partners — including AtkinsRéalis, Balfour Beatty, CELSA UK, Day Group, Materials Processing Institute and Tarmac — to commercialize its product initially for low-risk, non-structural construction applications.

Solar steam

Most industrial manufacturing relies on fossil fuel-powered steam turbines or furnaces to reach the high temperatures needed to transform materials into products. GlassPoint harnesses sunshine to produce steam.

Instead of solar panels, the company deploys an “enclosed trough system” of large curved mirrors suspended inside an agricultural glasshouse. The mirrors automatically track the sun, focusing sunlight on a stationary boiler tube containing water that is heated to produce high-pressure steam. Glasspoint has built more than half of the world’s industrial solar steam capacity, with solar steam generators in Germany, the US, the UK and Middle East. 

The New York-based company, which builds, owns and operates large solar steam facilities, won $2.5 million from German venture capital firm MIG Capital. The investment extends the company’s 2023 Series A financing round last year, which was led by German climate tech investor 300PPM and included Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and former Alcoa COO Tomas Sigurdsson.

GlassPoint will use the money to expand its engineering, commercial and operations teams and advance its project of developing the world’s largest solar process heat plant for state-owned mining company Maaden in Saudi Arabia. Maadan mines gold, bauxite, copper, gold, nickel, phosphate and zinc, and manufactures aluminum.