John Mead would love for people to say, “Black is the New Green.” Because he wants concrete to become carbon neutral by incorporating biochar, a charcoal-like soil additive. And he is sharing how to do it by making the award-winning process open source.
It was when vintner Remy Drabkin, mayor of McMinnville, Oregon, was planning a new 5000-square-foot production facility that Mead began exploring how to produce carbon-neutral concrete. When the slab was laid at Remy Wines in June 2022, it was the first carbon-negative concrete slab in North America.
It sequestered more carbon than was emitted while producing it. And that was in part due to the ‘biochar’, which in this case was derived from the treated “bio-solids” in wastewater plants. It’s now known as the Drabkin Mead Formulation.
The concrete goes beyond carbon-neutral, Mead explained, because it has trapped both carbon dioxide and the methane which normally would be released when the organic matter in sewage decays. Concrete accounts for 7% to 9% of carbon emissions worldwide.
Biochar is made from plants that have pulled carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Heated in the absence of oxygen, the carbon concentrates into an elemental form similar to charcoal but classified as biochar because it’s made from biogenic carbon.
Drabkin has been talking with other US mayors and officials about using municipal waste from sewage to make biochar for concrete and creating regional biochar production plants to bring the process to scale, and is urging governments to change building codes and design standards to mandate the use of carbon-neutral concrete.
“We need to demand not only a shift in global building industry practices but in customer expectations,” she told Outrider. “And that includes involving our local and state governments, who are routinely making decisions about the types of products that will create the world in which we exist and the infrastructure on which humanity relies. Sequestering carbon into our built environment is literally ‘a concrete solution’ to addressing climate change.”
Drabkin estimates the winery’s concrete ended up costing about 10% more than conventional concrete because the biochar had to be imported from Bioforcetech in California.
Drabkin hopes the interest and demand will prompt businesses in each state to turn local waste into biogenic carbon for local concrete companies.“The great thing about our process and our product here is that it can be replicated anywhere,” she says. “Anyone in the wine industry around the world can do this.”
After Mead partnered with Michael Bernert to develop the plan for the winery’s concrete, they founded Solid Carbon in May 2022. Mead, who has worked in sustainable construction for 20 years, considers himself a green builder. Bernert co-owns the largest family owned ready mix concrete company in Oregon.
Solid Carbon says it is focused on “bringing biogenic carbon based admixtures into the concrete industry through sourcing, testing, commercializing waste streams to help turn concrete from the largest source of carbon emissions in the construction industry into a climate solution.”
Carbon Negative Concrete. Solid Carbon.
Solid-Carbon Pioneers Sustainable Concrete Solutions for a Greener Future. News Direct, Mar 30, 2023
Eco-concrete is Cementing Itself as a Climate Solution. Outrider, Sep. 11, 2023
Remy Wines takes concrete action in Dayton. The Oregonian, Mar. 15, 2022
Cover image: from the Remy Wines website.