San Jose, California
Reactive Calcium Carbonate™
"We have developed a new cement," says Farsad, the company's vice president of corporate development. "And what’s significant about it is it's a very simple chemistry."
The introduction of Fortera's product is ramping up as a new manufacturing facility on nearly an acre of land in Redding is under construction. It is slated to go online in the first quarter of 2023 and, according to Farsad, presents an opportunity to forge partnerships with other cement manufacturers.
The traditional, energy-heavy method of making cement with limestone requires burning off CO2 and releasing it into the air. The quest for an alternative to that method began by looking at the environment.
"In nature, the exact opposite process happens," Farsad explains. "When nature makes its hard materials its building blocks, it actually takes CO2 from the atmosphere, and it reacts it with calcium and makes calcium carbonate. The calcium carbonate is the raw material for a lot of things that are found in nature, such as shells and coral reefs."
Farsad says Fortera was essentially able to introduce a mineral that had not previously existed by using new chemistry techniques. After a series of refinements, the company has been able to market a dry powder that turns to cement when water is added.
"What we've done is mimicked the process nature utilizes for cementing," Farsad says, "and we're able to do that at an existing cement site. That's why there's synergy and excitement here. Instead of letting the CO2 go, we roll it back into the process, and we're able to make the cement that is comprised of calcium carbonate."
According to Farsad, the cement industry is a pivotal part of life as we know it, which is what spurred the process of creating a more environmentally friendly product that is not producing high concentrations of CO2.
"Cement is a material that's absolutely essential," he explains. "It's right up there with water and oxygen. We need it to build our environment around us. It's not going away, and it shouldn't. It's very economical. It really unlocks the ability to create civilization. You need roads, and you need infrastructure."
Challenges: Rolling out Fortera's calcium carbonate chemistry on a grand scale has, and will continue to, require sizable infusions of cash. "We're in a very capital-intensive industry," Farsad explains. "To build a cement manufacturing plant -- there's no easy way to go about it. It's a big investment."
Bringing a new manufacturing facility online, such as the one in Redding, also requires a lengthy time commitment. "It takes two to three years to build a plant," Farsad says. "You've got long runway. You need a lot of capital, and you need support from the industry. That is a monumental task for a startup."
But Farsad notes that the company is poised for continued growth, thanks to the investors who have backed it.
"Fortunately, our investors are not traditional. They're not looking for a quick return on their investment," Farsad continues. "They're in it for the long haul. They've backed us this entire time. They understand the significance and the importance of what we're doing, and what it actually takes. This is a multiple decade pursuit. There's only a handful of investors with this type of appetite."
Opportunities: Once the new Redding facility is up and running early next year, Farsad says it will serve as an important platform for the company's continued success. "What that really is going to do for us is showcase the technology and give other future cement plant partners a site where they can walk and see the production happen," he adds.
Partnerships have been pinpointed as a key part of Fortera's long-term success. "It's a big enough industry that we can all be successful," Farsad says of the company's philosophy. "We actually need each other to prove that new technologies can be profitable and economical."
Needs: Looking to the short and long road ahead, Farsad says staying the course will be a fundamentally important part of the company's journey. To that end, he says the work of company engineers to scale the business is a pivotal next step.
Communicating Fortera's calcium carbonate chemistry on a broader scale also is a high priority. The product, he proclaims, can dually bring manufacturing costs down and reduce carbon emissions. "You don't have to be at a premium to go green," Farsad says. "Being more efficient should cost less."