Calera: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Sustainability

27 Pages Posted: 30 May 2017

See all articles by Andrea Larson

Andrea Larson

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Mark Meier

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Abstract

A high-risk, highly capital-intensive start-up had confirmed its product's scalability and must then decide what business model made sense. It's biomimicry-inspired, environmentally sustainable cement product and related processes had the potential to lower greenhouse gas emissions, possibly sequester carbon, and even assist in potable water production. If everything worked as hoped, Calera's method seemed like a magic sponge capable of absorbing multiple pollutants and transforming them into desirable products. The reality, though full of possibilities, was complex, with many practical hurdles.

Excerpt

UVA-ENT-0160

Rev. Sept. 27, 2010

Calera: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Sustainability

Introduction

Brent Constantz had three decades of entrepreneurial experience starting companies based on how cements formed in coral reefs and seashells. Yet those same reefs and shells were threatened by ocean acidification from anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions (Exhibit 1). Constantz had a simple insight: If humans could make cement as marine life did (through biomimicry) without burning fuel and converting minerals in high-temperature processes, then greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would be significantly reduced. With that idea, Calera Corporation was born.

Calera's goal was to make synthetic limestone and carbonate cement, both used as major feedstock for concrete, by mimicking nature's low-energy process. Calera's process aimed to precipitate carbonate cement from seawater (ideally retentate left by desalination) and combine it with a strong alkaline base. When Constantz accidently discovered carbon dioxide (CO2) could enhance his process, he realized he needed a source of CO2. When he brought his technology and his challenge to cleantech venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, Calera suddenly became a carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology company, one with massive storage potential if located proximate to point sources of pollution: Power plants emitted 40% of U.S. carbon dioxide in 2008 and industrial process facilities dispersed another 20%. Yet a high level of technical risk and a number of unknowns remained about the breadth of applicability due to the requirement for brines and alkaline materials. Khosla, as the principal investor, shared Constantz's vision and saw the huge promise and the attendant risk of failure as a high-risk high-impact potential home run that would completely change assumptions about the power and cement industry or a strikeout.

. . .

Keywords: biomimicry minerals synthetic limestone and carbonate cement concrete seawater cleantech venture capitalist carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology company water purification technology chlor-alkali industry environmental remediation oil and gas drilling hazardous waste sustainability

Suggested Citation

Larson, Andrea and Meier, Mark, Calera: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Sustainability. Darden Case No. UVA-ENT-0160. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2974262

Andrea Larson (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.darden.virginia.edu/faculty/larson.htm

Mark Meier

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

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