The Race for Better + Greener Buildings


a construction worker installing drywall

Construction materials haven’t changed drastically in the past century, but one man wants to change that due to the raising CO2 emissions.

By creating a more environmentally friendly material, he’s helping to reduce the energy usage generated by the world’s largest contributor – buildings.

The exponentially rising emission is a great concern among many, including Kevin Surace as he opens his 2009 TED Talk stating, “What’s happening to the climate, it is unbelievably bad.” Surace, an engineer, and CEO of Serious Materials wants to reduce the use of fossil fuels and their effect on the environment in the industry. He has taken initiative and has begun to look at what he can do to help the depleting environment. His research started by examining the worldwide sources of CO2, concluding that 52% of all sources are tied to buildings (40% building operations and 12% building materials).

Surace suggests we rethink the outdated, 115-year-old construction material – Gypsum Drywall. The production of this most basic and common material compared to all other building materials emits the third highest amount of CO2 per year, 20 billion pounds of CO2. Surace’s company, Serious Materials, wants to reduce this number by 80%, a goal they are working hard to meet.

EcoRock is a clean, recyclable, and energy-efficient drywall that started as an idea in 2006. Surace and his team began research and development by using recycled content from cement and steel manufacturing. The team devised a process that mixes these materials together to form a paste, which is then poured into sheets. They created over 5,000 different mixtures before getting them right. This innovative material requires no gypsum, and no ovens to produce is made from 85% industrial by-products and is fully recyclable.

EcoRock has an enormous impact on the race to reduce CO2 emissions on the environment. Kevin Surace and his team at Serious Materials have paved the way toward producing better building materials. Many have joined him in this effort to improve building materials through items such as solar panel windows developed by a team at Michigan State University. The transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC) creates solar power energy when placed over a clear, uncolored surface. Another company in Germany, Franhofer, is developing an insulation foam material made from wood to hopefully replace petrochemical plastics in the future. Or there is Ferrock a carbon dioxide sponge that is stronger than cement. The material is made from waste steel dust left over from industrial processes. With these new materials on the market, the future of buildings is looking a lot greener as technology and ideas keep improving.