A family business found the right chemistry to take the symbol of the man-made world and bring it back to nature. A few nuggets about recyclable concrete.
Rock On Concrete stands firm
Dust to dust Concrete--it's sand, water, rocks, and cement--ought to be easy to break down and reuse. It hasn't been, because waterproofing membranes are so difficult to remove from concrete that contractors often don't try. It all goes into the Dumpster. About a quarter of municipal waste comes from construction and demolition debris, nearly half of which is concrete. Hycrete's water-soluble additive, also called Hycrete, replaces membranes. Mixed into the concrete recipe, it actually makes the stuff waterproof--and keeps debris reusable. "It's as big an advance as we've seen in concrete in 1,000 years," says industrial sustainability guru William McDonough.
Chem Lab Hycrete reacts with metallic ions in cement to take on the properties of an oil, forming a long hydrocarbon chain that repels water. Basically, it blocks penetration of water by filling pores and sealing internal voids in the concrete.
Spreading the cost savings Hycrete's cost ($3 to $4 range per square foot of concrete) is comparable to the cost of the waterproofing membranes it makes unnecessary. But its real value is in the time it saves. Construction is a sequential process. Concrete is laid and must dry before a subcontractor can put down the membrane. Since Hycrete is mixed into the concrete itself, the extra step is eliminated. Ted Rebelowski of Largo Concrete, a large California contractor, started recommending Hycrete to clients after using it in a high-rise condo project. "We don't get anything monetary out of it," he says. "But we gain speed."
Live Free and Dry Hard Green concrete? It sounds a little lightweight. But 10 years of testing from state departments of transportation show that Hycrete's additive makes concrete durable by reducing water absorption and inhibiting corrosion of concrete. Staying dryer also protects the steel reinforcements used with concrete.
Space Age to Stone Age Hycrete's CEO, David Rosenberg, hadn't planned to enter his family's chemical company, even though its intriguing work included developing heat shields for NASA. He got pulled in after the death of his grandfather, who had worked for years to develop a corrosion inhibitor--and found he had a successful formula one week before he passed away. David's uncle asked him if he would join the company to develop the inhibitor. Fresh out of business school and six weeks into a new job, Rosenberg said yes. He now operates Hycrete as an independent company in Carlstadt, New Jersey.
More than just green Because it's nontoxic and makes reuse possible, Hycrete has earned "cradle-to-cradle" certification from McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, which rates products' environmental friendliness. But Hycrete is used mostly because of its construction advantages. It can be found in the concrete in stretches of the New Jersey Turnpike, a ferry terminal in Maine, and a birdbath at the Bronx Zoo.
Reporter NITASHA TIKU covers technology, finance, green business, and social entrepreneurship for Inc. magazine and contributes to the staff’s daily links blog. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, The Villager, Chelsea Now, and on nymag.com. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. @nitashatiku