The Implications of Gaia Engineering for the Cement and Concrete Industry
It should by now be obvious to all that doing things in the same old way will not solve our climate problems. We need to think outside the square, learn from nature and change the way we do things to make a living.
A recent survey of all the current proposals for solving the climate crisis available on the TecEco web site titled "Solutions to the Global Warming Problem" concluded that there are only two propositions that can be implemented quickly enough, that can get rid of sufficient carbon dioxide out of the air, are profitable and that leave no legacies for future generations and they are returning carbon to our soils and Gaia Engineering
The Role of Soils in Sequestration is being promoted by others including Dr Tim Flannery and Dr Christine Jones in Australia and will not be addressed in detail on this page. Gaia Engineering is our own concept and involves building with man made carbonate, is potentially very profitable because it utilises carbon as a resource to produce concretes and given economies of scale will reduce costs.
Gaia engineering does not involve a giant leap of faith as we have been building with limestone for centuries. There are no legacies for future generations to deal with. Gaia Engineering is an adjunct to carbon trading and does not depend on it or the highly political and so far failed Kyoto process. An artificially high future price for carbon is not mandatory although helpful.
Gaia Engineering has tremendous potential for the concrete industry because it offers much more than just carbon offsets and given a high level of support would most likely attract significant government funding as it is a superior alternative to geosequestration. It involves education and thus a strong role for lead organisations like the Concrete Institute of Australia and Cement Industry Federation. Implementation requires changing permissions and rewards systems and a new outside the box approach to making money selling carbonating mineral binders and man made carbonate aggregates.
There are few that doubt that when the ice stops melting that temperatures will rise rapidly. If the methane clathrates also melt we are heading for a global catastrophe on a major scale and perhaps the end of civilisation.
It should by now be obvious that doing things in the same old way will not solve our climate problems. Politically driven process such as Kyoto that rely on promises, international co-operation and legal pricing in artificial markets to implement constraints on emissions and thus on the real economy are understandably treated with skepticism by many and so far they have not worked. We need to think outside the square and this web page will demonstrate that this is as simple as learning from nature and changing the way we do things to make a living.
Kyoto is obsessed more about numbers than means and mechanisms. It does not address how to get there, has no thought of the strategy or technology platforms. It is a system of promises about the quanta of emissions that so far few have shown they can keep. It is possible that all the actions to date have merely been for political feel good reasons and in the pursuit of profit through efficiency gains. As a strategy Kyoto processes have been almost totally ineffective. A long term view is required with appropriate technologies and strategies for their implementation for the continuance of civilisation.
The problem of global warming must and can be solved. To exist in harmony with the planet in the future we just have to change the way we do things now and the cement and concrete industry have a major role to play.
Understanding the Problem
The problem is not carbon; it is the amount of it in the atmosphere. As carbon sinks go very little is present in the air compared to elsewhere but the natural migration of the excess we have put there to other more permanent sinks is not happening quickly enough. A short term perturbation sufficient to tip the world’s climate into another state which may not be suitable for us to live in is occurring. This state could include a vastly different atmospheric composition that may not be suitable for human life if the methane clathrates melt as is ultimately possible.
There are two basic strategy alternatives to solve the problem:
1. Emissions Reduction
Emissions reduction is essential but useless alone now without efforts to actively remove CO2 from the air (See 2 below). The reason is that there is already enough CO2 in the atmosphere to cause significant temperature rises and the gas does not dissipate quickly.
Emissions constraint without alternatives is also politically and economically not achievable because it involves actions that reduce profitability. Profitability is linked to the survival of individuals, companies and governments and none survive long without.
Carbon trading attaches legal costs to emissions that are supposed to help the required migration to non fossil fuel energy sources and other green alternative technologies without carbon costs attached. The trouble is that the success of the mechanism depends on the unpredictable and uncertain politics of the future and given the non performance by global governments to date lacks credibility. That there will be a certain and sufficiently high future cost for carbon cannot be relied upon by big business so they have not and are unlikely to invest in alternative green technologies. In the meantime the obvious need to foster alternatives remains unattended to and the ‘we will if you will’ political show continues.
Alternatives are not being developed or implemented quickly enough because investors are not supporting them given the uncertainties of the Kyoto process. Development and deployment costs are high and carbon trading is a fickle instrument of governments they do not trust reducing the effectiveness of offsets as a driver.
There is ample evidence that Kyoto type processes have not and will not solve the problem. So far we are tracking on worse than all IPCC alternatives. Assuming Kyoto commitments are met (which is very unlikely) one estimate is that global emissions will be 41% higher in 2010 than in 1990.3].
Whilst the debate continues and action lags behind it is becoming increasingly obvious that the rate of onset of major climate change has been underestimated and so we are in a double whammy. An environmental and economic crunch. Many including Lord Stern and the Greens here in Australia have called for a Green revolution to lead us out of the malaise. All the way to the United Nations there are initiatives and calls backing green innovation but ever more cautious investors who have already received a bludgeoning are not putting their money behind green technologies.
Times are tough and possibly going to get tougher before world economies recover from the worst recession since the great depression and in spite of calls for the opposite to occur, big business are understandably walking from anything to do with carbon trading. World industrial product and fossil fuel use and thus emissions are 100% correlated and cannot be decoupled in a hurry without causing further economic stress even with increasingly unlikely world co-operation.
The debate rages as to whether it will cost more to implement constraint of adjust to climate change. The fact that there are profitable alternatives like Gaia Engineering is being lost in the heat of the argument.
2. Active Removal from the Atmosphere or Point Sources
Geo engineering active removal from the atmosphere creating man made carbonate building components as in Gaia Engineering will be more effective than emissions reduction as it does not involve the politics of ‘we will if you will’. Given the distrust of offsets as a result of the political indecision to date mentioned above, the key will be profitability. Profitability does not require co-operation although carbon trading would help commercialisation. In the case of Gaia engineering the only involvement from government need be financial support to develop the component technologies and legislation to mandate use in exchange for building permits. This will not happen unless the cement and concrete industry get behind the proposal. Carbon in soils will be a little harder to implement because it involves massive reform of farming practices.
As far back as a year ago there was public recognition of the importance of technological fixes that actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or point sources. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the International Chamber of Commerce issued a Communiqué from Bali that at point 4 said "Technology is key, for addressing the climate challenges. There is a need for scaling up of R&D jointly between Governments and Business as well as accelerating the deployment of technologies".
More recently an article appeared in The Independent of Friday 2 January 2009  in which it was made clear that "An emergency "Plan B" using the latest technology is needed to save the world from dangerous climate change". The Independent undertook a poll of "80 international specialists in climate science" and determined that "what has worried many of the experts, who include recognised authorities from the world's leading universities and research institutes, as well as a Nobel Laureate, is the failure to curb global greenhouse gas emissions through international agreements, namely the Kyoto Treaty, and recent studies indicating that the Earth's natural carbon "sinks" are becoming less efficient at absorbing man-made CO2 from the atmosphere."
What is of concern is that there are many mostly wacky alternatives that are being proffered and we have covered most of them on the web page Solutions To the Global Warming Problem - Wacky or Otherwise . The mandatory use of man made carbonate or agricultural practices that increase soil carbon are the easiest to implement, potentially profitable and the only two solutions that do not leave legacies for our descendents. Given the urgency of removing CO2 from the atmosphere they need to be engaged as soon as possible.
A change in the technical basis of our economies in favour of using carbon dioxide as an input resource must be profitable otherwise it will not occur or if it did it would not be sustained. By internalising CO2 in the economy we can harness human psychology dominated by selfish desire and get it working for our long term survival. We can talk about technical change rather than constraint. A real price on carbon investors can trust will emerge as a result of which people would invent all sorts of way of capturing the gas.
Figure 1 - Economic Behaviour and Global Homeostasis
Unlike natural economies found in climax eco-systems we are not using as much CO2 as we produce. In the past, before humans began interfering with and now controlling the climate, if the CO2 level was high it would eventually in a self regulatory way be taken up first by plants (on land as well as in the sea) in soils and eventually as solid carbonate rock. That is why over 4.5 billion years some 40 million gigatonnes of carbonate rocks covering some 8% of the crust has been formed. Carbon dioxide has for many years been added to in the atmosphere by off gassing from the deeper earth. Life has continued as we know it because there is a natural progression in the permanence of carbon fixed in the crustal zone as depicted in Figure 2.
Figure 2 - Carbon Sinks with Increasing Permanence and Time to form to the Right
It should be understood from the observation of nature and as a matter of logic that to solve the carbon problem we must accelerate the flow in the direction of the blue arrow in the above diagram. Any other strategy such as currently pursued Kyoto constraint processes will not hold off inevitable failure given population growth that is rising exponentially. Constraint is a negative economic force and cannot harness human endeavour the same way as a technical challenge that all can profitably participate in.
There is no strategy in place anywhere in the world that currently recognises that there are barriers to the invention of new technologies including economies of scale, patent costs, early unfair competition and business practices and that can provide the massive R & D and procurement support required. On the web page Changing Permissions and Rewards Systems to Get Ready for Carbon Trading and Meet the Sustainability Challenge the restriction imposed on innovation by our standards and permissions systems is discussed.
People create the build environment with permissions (engineering, standards, council approvals etc.) for reward (money, Leed rating, hopefully soon carbon offsets etc.). Getting the permissions and rewards systems right so that appropriate numbers are easily generated for the generation of carbon offsets is important. Carbon offsets are a lever that will assist implementation of better building and construction practices and technologies so that the way we build coincides with better environmental stewardship.
In my view governments, as well as interfering in the market place (rules, regulations, taxes, tariffs, subsidies etc.) must also foster new technology paradigms that can convert carbon dioxide to a resource. They will do this with the support of industry associations like the cement and concrete industry as it is easy to demonstrate the superiority of Gaia engineering over geosequestration which they are already supporting.
The techno-process can be considered as the technical interface of the economy, it involves the flow of materials through the supply use and waste chain stages of their life. Underlying this flow are molecular flows including the flows of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Figure 3 - The Techno-Process
To change the balance of carbon in the atmosphere and achieve long term stability we must actually change the materials flowing through the techno-process. That way the underlying molecular flow including the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases can be changed and even reversed. The new technology paradigms required need both a push (in terms of funding research to create the technology) as well as a pull (a profit or tax motive to deploy the technology)
Figure 4 - Molecular Flows Underlying the Techno-Process
The sequestration as a result of using man made carbonate in the next ten years or for that matter one thousand years will depend on the take up of the technology. It is important to note that there is plenty of scope as materials flows in the built environment are some 50 – 60 billion tonnes and in Newsletter 60 we showed that only some 22 billion tonnes of solid man made magnesium carbonate a year is required to equate to annual anthropogenic emissions.
Our modelling indicates that if 50% of all building and construction were man made carbonate as I advocate, then the required reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide would be achieved by 2030 and the problem of global warming solved. Considering that over 70% of materials used in building and construction are mineral based changing 50% to man made carbonate is not impossible to achieve. On the contrary, it is potentially profitable.
Once stability is achieved this percentage will of course have to be monitored and adjusted to avoid bringing on an ice age. Following this strategy other problems such as that of waste and the supply of fresh water are incidentally solved as a bonus.
Summary of Gaia Engineering
In substance Gaia Engineering involves building with man made carbonate and wastes and my company TecEco has developed enabling technologies including more sustainable and technically superior binders such as Eco-Cement the flagship product which sets by absorbing CO2 and binds to almost anything. TecEco also have a kiln for making the binders required without releases. Software for implementing the companies cement formulations is being written by a subsidiary company TecSoft Pty. Ltd.
Figure 5 - Carbon Sinks and Anthropogenic Actual and Predicted Consumption of Carbon (after Ziock and Harrison)
Although the Gaia Engineering process is simple in concept the detail is more complex and a flow chart is included as Figure 6. A brief more technical explanation follows.
Gaia Engineering starts with a front end process to capture carbon dioxide using the magnesium contained in bitterns, seawater or brine and to date there are several promising candidate methods that all require further research and development. They include the Greensols process which involves chemical precipitation, the Calera process, a cavitation process, a pyrohydrolysis process that can be run in association with salt manufacture, a ultra high speed centrifuge process and several catalytic processes.
Outputs will vary according to the ultimate process selected for the concentration of CO2 needed and are as hereunder:
- Greensols - sodium bicarbonate, mineral salts, carbonate building materials and aggregates, Eco-Cements and fresh water.
- Calera Process – a different process with similar outcomes to the Greensols process
- Cavitation process – relies on mechanically reducing the polar bonding of water.
- Pyrohydrolysis - magnesium oxide and hydrochloric acid. The magnesium oxide can be used for Eco-Cements and hydrochloric acid in the Greensols process or industry.
- Ultra Centrifuges - provided materials can be found to withstand the forces involved, potentially similar outputs as the Greensols process.
- Catalytic Routes – calcium and magnesium carbonates can be precipitated using catalysts like carbonic anhydrase or even carbonic acid.
These “front end” processes are being researched by TecEco and others and will use carbon dioxide from for example power stations and cement kilns to produce carbonate utilising the naturally occurring calcium and magnesium found in seawater, suitable brines or from residual minerals after the extraction of table salt. What my company TecEco also want to do is couple with these front end processes economic uses in building and construction of the carbonate produced to drive them. TecEco also have a key kiln technology essential to all contenders.
As there are 1.29 grams of magnesium and around .41 grams of calcium in every litre of seawater there is enough of it to last billions of years with natural replenishment given current needs for sequestration.
Figure 6 - Gaia Engineering Flow Chart
The front end processes in Gaia Engineering will produce massive amounts of man made carbonate which will be reconstituted and put to good use by TecEco as building materials for construction. Most of the front end process listed also produce better quality water which is in strong demand. Given the size of, volume of and potential reduction in impact of associated flows, TecEco binders used to cement together wastes and to form carbonate building materials in a way that mimics nature are a potential solution to global warming water and waste problems and an essential part of Gaia Engineering.
A proportion of the calcium and magnesium carbonates produced by one of the front end processes will be calcined in the TecEco Tec-Kiln without releases in a closed system using non fossil fuel energy in a combined calcining and grinding process which removes and captures the CO2 for recycling in the front end processes and produces quicklime and magnesium oxide. The quicklime can be used to make Portland cement in an exothermic reaction with a source of silicon, aluminium and iron. Magnesium oxide is an important component of TecEco Tec, Eco and Enviro-Cements. Eco-Cement is a blend of Portland cement and reactive magnesia which in permeable substrates absorbs atmospheric CO2 to harden and together with other wastes will be used to bind together man made carbonate building components including stone, cast components and aggregates. In this manner all hydraulic and carbonating cements can be made without releases of CO2.
TecEco undertake the manufacture of building materials holistically on a whole of material basis and the formulation strategy for the company’s carbonate building materials will be best communicated as software being developed by its subsidiary TecSoft Pty. Ltd. that will in effect be a recipe book for materials of the future which solve rather than create problems.
Funds are required for further analysis, however the preliminary graphs produced by our modelling tool available on the TecEco web site demonstrate the potential enormous sequestration Gaia engineering technologies can provide.
A built environment of man made carbonate and waste materials could be recycled indefinitely and would store a massive amount of CO2 and other wastes, more than enough to solve the global warming and waste problems if compulsorily adopted by all nations. Implementation merely requires modifying the building approvals process to make it compulsory to use a percentage of man made carbonate.
Alternatives to Gaia Engineering
The main contender is the coal industries answer to the climate change dilemma. So called "clean coal" involves pumping CO2 underground (usually with the co-operation of the oil industry as the gas is used to force up more oil.) My comment is that much work over many years during the cold war and later has established that the risks of “geosequestration” as it is called are far too high due to the fractured unstable nature of the crust. This risk the fossil fuel industry are keen to ignore and transfer to future generations.
The Climate Action Network Australia (CANA ) which is an alliance of environmental, public health, social justice and research organisations working together to fight Global Warming produced an interesting graph in a 2004 media briefing which supports our own modelling of geosequestration (downloadable under tools). The models vary depending on the emissions and response scenarios adopted but importantly they concurrently prove that with even with small amount of leakage which will be inevitable, that it is essential we adopt a permanent sequestration technology such as Gaia Engineering.
The safety and efficacy of geosequestration all depend on the leakage rate which of course can never be determined - the crust is instable in the long term and that is why we have geological features like continents, mountains and valleys. Researchers vary greatly in their assumptions and conclusions regarding a likely level of leakage. Whatever the scenario undeniably some leakage will occur because geological formations are not completely stable. They are for example disturbed by earthquakes caused by the movement of plates or upwelling of magmas. Another source of leakage could also be the instability of injection points over time.
Dooley and Wise, Hawkins, and Hepple and Benson find that the annual leakage rate must be lower than 0.1% if geological storage is to be safe. The problem is that if the leakage rate is higher, targets for atmospheric greenhouse gas stabilization in the range of 450 to 550 ppm become unattainable in the long term. Our own modelling in our new downloadable Gaia Engineering Process v Geosequestration Model under tools on the TecEco web site indicates that anything more than about .2% leakage would result in the problem getting worse after about 200 years and at best all geosequestration can do is buy us time.
The diagram below from CANA  illustrates a scenario in which geosequestration is used as the exclusive greenhouse gas emission reducing tool for the next two hundred years and a leakage rate of 0.1% per annum is assumed. The graph shows that by the end of the 22nd century the entire ‘carbon budget’ of future generations would be consumed by leakage from past underground carbon dioxide storage. This would mean that future generations can not avoid dangerous climate change, even if they reduced their own greenhouse gas emissions to zero.
Figure 7 -Impact of a 0.1% Leak Rate from the Underground Storage of Carbon 
In conclusion CANA  said that "The assumption of exclusive reliance on storage may be an extreme one, however the example illustrates that emphasis on energy efficiency and increased reliance on renewable energy must be priority areas for greenhouse gas mitigation. The higher the expected leakage rate and the larger the uncertainty, the less attractive geosequestration is compared to other mitigation alternatives such as shifting to renewable energy sources, and improved efficiency in production and consumption of energy."
The graph demonstrates that a permanent form of sequestration is essential because of the leakage issue. Our considered view is that it will be too difficult given human nature for us to give up the remaining 7,000 gigatonnes of coal left on the planet as a source of energy and that the rate of conversion to non fossil sources of energy cannot possibly be quick enough. As Di Fazio has demonstrated - the correlation is just too strong between world industrial product (WIP) and fossil fuel energy and thus emissions.
Our research indicates that the only viable technical solutions to global warming without legacies and that could potentially be profitable are carbon in soils and Gaia Engineering.
On the TecEco web site under sustainability and in Newsletter 84 all the main technical contenders are discussed including Gaia Engineering, carbon in soils and geosequestration and are compared. For the sake of completeness even wackier alternatives such as pumping CO2 into the deep oceans and putting what amounts to reflectors in the sky are also mentioned!
Importance and Benefits of the Involvement of the Cement and Concrete Industry
The importance of solving the global warming crisis cannot be underestimated. It is like a train coming at high speed at us through a dark tunnel through which we cannot see. The Cement and Concrete Industry can be at the forefront of the solution and at the same time solve their own problems of economic malaise. Imagine what an announcement that Portland cement can be made without releases and that concrete containing man made carbonate can be made would do for share prices. The fact that the whole process can also result in lower costs would, for a while at least, also overcome the thin margin curse of the industry.
Consider a simple model whereby a tonne of cement is sold for $A 200 and costs $A 180 to produce. If there are in total 1 tonne of emissions to be taxed per tonne of cement and if the legal cost of emissions is $A 25 per tonne a net loss of $A 20 results. If the same cement is made without releases and can reabsorb all the emissions that would have occurred, then the net profit is $ 60 per tonne. Build into this simple model lower manufacturing costs and higher prices for carbon and huge profits can be made. Worth considering?
Carbon in soils, although important will take too long to implement as it involves re-educating millions of farmers. Gaia Engineering is the most promising form of rapid permanent sequestration yet devised. We must build with man made carbonate. There is no other choice.
I do not believe huge amounts of money need to be found. What is missing is publicity and credibility. I put it to the industry that if they show their strong support the money required will come from governments.
As M K Singhi from India commented at the recent Cement Industry National Conference in Melbourne in relation to his country “we want the concrete industry to be the saviour of the world”. This can indeed be the outcome because the cement and concrete industry is the only industry with sufficiently large markets for man made carbonate to reverse global carbon flows. I just prey that this occurs during my lifetime.
Summary and Recommendations
Geosequestration is considered wacky by most sane scientists yet the lobby group involved are attracting millions from the Australian Federal government. Gaia Engineering is much more attractive because it is easier to implement and has no associated risks and thus no legacies for future generations. By products include fresher water which is in strong demand and as a bonus given full implementation and economies of scale the technology is potentially very profitable. Most importantly building with man made carbonate and wastes, the nub of Gaia engineering, is the easiest solution to implement quickly and on a scale that our modelling indicates will work. The most formidable obstacle is not the science which is relatively simple but the mindset we are in. We must adaptively change to survive.
For a bunkered down and stressed cement and concrete industry it is worth contemplating what an announcement that cements can be made without releases and aggregates made of man made carbonates would do for share prices and what the use of the TecEco kiln that utilises much less energy by using non fossil fuels and combining calcining and grinding would do for the bottom line.
If we continue to do the same old thing in the same old way then nothing much will change.
 The residence time of CO2 is thought to be between 100 and 200 years.
 Whetton, P., Climate Change: What is the Science Telling Us? 2008, CSIRO: Presentation for the Australian Cement Federation Conference, 14 September, 2007, Melbourne.
 Ford, M., et al. Perspectives on International Climate Change. in Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society 50th Annual Conference. 2006. Sydney: Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society
 The UN Green Economy Initiative to pull us out of the recession
 di Fazio, A. The Fallacy of Pure Efficiency Gain Measures to Control Future Climate Change. [cited 2008.
 Conner, S. and C. Green, Climate scientists: it's time for 'Plan B', in The Independent. 2009, Independent Newspapers.
 See http://www.tececo.com/files/newsletters/Newsletter60.htm
 Magnesium compounds bind well because of their strongly polar surfaces to any other surface that is or is potentially differentially charged.
 Modified from Figure 2 in Ziock, H.J. and D.P. Harrison. Zero Emission Coal Power, a New Concept. Available from: http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/proceedings/01/carbon_seq/2b2.pdf. by the inclusion of a bar to represent sedimentary sinks. A gigaton (or gigatonne) is a metric unit of mass, equal to 1,000,000,000 (1 billion) metric tons, 1,000,000,000,000 (1 trillion) kilograms, or 1 quadrillion grams.
 TecEco cements contain magnesium compounds which because of their polar bonding capacity bond well to most wastes.
 It will be necessary for a world carbon regulatory system with Gaia Engineering to make sure too much carbon is not removed.
 CANA, Carbon Leakage and Geosequestration. 2004, Climate Action Network Australia.
 Torvanger, A., S. Kallbekken, and l.K. Rypda, Prerequisites for Geological Carbon Storage as a Climate Policy Option. 2004, Center for International Climate and Environmental Research: Norway.
 Dooley, J.J. and M.A. Wise, Why injecting CO2 into various geological formation is not the same as climate change mitigation: The issue of leakage, in Sixth International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies. 2002: Kyoto, Japan.
 Hawkins, D.G. Passing gas: Policy implications of leakage from geologic carbon storage sites. in International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies. 2002. Kyoto, Japan.
 Hepple, R.P. and S.M. Benson. Implications of surface seepage on the effectiveness of geological storage of carbon dioxide as a climate mitigation strategy. in Sixth International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies. 2002. Kyoto, Japan.
 Singh, M.K. Indian Cement Industry Overview. in Australian Cement Industry Driving CO2 Reduction National Conference 2007. Melbourne.