Watershed Materials Awarded National Science Foundation Grant To Develop Durable Green Masonry Building Materials With Zero Cement

Words: Bronzella Cleveland

The National Science Foundation supports Watershed Materials’ cutting-edge development of zero cement masonry to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of one of the world’s most common building products.

Watershed Materials, a sustainable masonry products manufacturer, has been awarded a $740,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation to develop and commercialize structural masonry blocks with a significantly reduced carbon footprint. The blocks – known as ZeroBlock – are designed as a drop-in replacement for Concrete Masonry Units (CMUs). Watershed Materials is developing replacements for the industry standard CMUs that will offer the same size and structural capacities, the company says, with a lowered carbon footprint, use of locally sourced recycled material, and an appearance of natural stone.

Watershed Materials currently designs, manufactures, and distributes a first-generation masonry block called Watershed Block that uses half the cement of an ordinary concrete block. The National Science Foundation SBIR grant will be used to commercialize this second-generation product. The manufacturer anticipates a 2015 market release of ZeroBlock. Both Watershed Block and ZeroBlock incorporate recycled content such as quarry byproduct, mine tailings, and even recycled concrete in place of the virgin mined rock used in concrete.

According to the manufacturer, the technology behind ZeroBlock involves activating the geopolymerization of naturally occurring nanoaluminosilicates to create the structural bonds normally provided by cement. Additionally, Watershed Materials has reinvented the hydraulic block press to apply compressive forces so great as to actually lithify mineral grains, turning loose sediment into stone. These technologies have the potential to reduce the energy required to produce ZeroBlock by 90 percent compared to an ordinary concrete block.

“We are looking for a sweet spot where old and new technologies are blended to address a huge environmental problem,” says David Easton, president of Watershed Materials. “It turns out that with the right combination of minerals and sediment, and the right machine technology, we can re-make rock.”

“Applying nanotechnology to simulate geological processes enables us to eliminate cement, which is responsible for six to seven percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally,” says Joe Dahmen, director of dustainability at Watershed Materials, “but we are equally excited about the new range of expression these materials offer to architects and designers.”

Full details of the grant are available on the NSF website:

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