Architectural: The Carbon Connexion: Carbon Negative Cement, 2011 Material of Year

Materials matter. Plain and simple, this is the driving statement upon which Material ConneXion has formed a global platform for the advancement of design materials. As a means to recognize those revolutionary building blocks—without which, innovative goods and designs would not be possible—Material ConneXion launched its first ever MEDIUM Award for Material of the Year in 2010 to honor top game-changers in its ever-expanding Materials Library of new and exemplary material innovations. This year the MEDIUM Award was given to the novel Carbon Negative Cement (CNC), produced by Novacem (

While concrete is not a novel material, what is innovative about CNC is its inherent composition, which actually reduces CO2 emissions in construction. The revolutionary formula of CNC replaces the traditional mix of calcium carbonate compounds [typically constituting concrete] with magnesium oxides and silicates. Therefore, no carbon is used or released during its production; instead, the material is produced with biomass fuels at significantly lower temperatures.

“This innovation has the potential to radically reduce the carbon footprint of construction, reducing CO2 from concrete from one ton per ton of concrete to negative values—the concrete actually sequesters the CO2 during production,” explains Dr. Andrew H. Dent, VP, Library & Materials Research, Material ConneXion. “It will have a great effect on the overall CO2 emissions, as concrete is often the largest volume of material in large-scale construction projects and found to contribute at least 5 percent of man’s overall carbon footprint.”

Dent overall was impressed with this year’s MEDIUM Award entrants (a total of nine Honorable Mentions also were granted), believing they showed “a greater degree of adaptation of existing technologies” in clever and useful solutions to real, existing market needs. “This may be a result of the more austere economic climate, stimulating us to think more and be more creative with fewer resources,” he says.

What was particularly interesting is that all of the 2011 entrants had at least two sustainable attributes, which underscores sustainability and the rise of green building as a central and growing concern across the design industry. “Sustainability is becoming an essential part of a material’s properties, with equivalent importance on performance, aesthetics, and price,” says Dent, who calls for the greater use of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) to provide quantification and a deeper understanding of carbon reduction rather than simply dubbing a product as “green.” He adds, “Once we are able to compare products using CO2 numbers, we will have a better handle on truly lower-impact material choices.”

Among some of the honorable mentions this year, Dent calls attention to EcoCradle™ (a biodegradable alternative to polystyrene foam made from growing mushrooms with farm waste) and Flextrus’ PaperLite® (a biodegradable paper alternative to plastic food containers that gives paper new life as a packaging solution) as two of his favorites.  

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