June 29, 2023


Meet the 33-year-old Canadian chemist and the renowned MIT professor who are building the 'electric vehicle of cement making' (Catherine Clifford, 6/24/23, CNBC)

Ellis took her Ph.D. in electrochemistry and went to work for Yet-Ming Chiang, a renowned material sciences professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is also a serial clean-tech entrepreneur. Chiang co-founded companies such as American Superconductor Corporation, A123 Systems, Desktop Metal, Form Energy and 24M Technologies.

Now Ellis is working to scale up a new climate-conscious process of making cement, one powered with electrochemistry instead of fossil fuel-powered heat.

Making cement using electrochemistry was Chiang's idea, Ellis told CNBC in Boston at the end of May. Ellis said she worked with Chiang in 2018, just after he had started Form Energy, a long-duration battery company, and he was thinking about the abundant intermittent energy that was being generated by renewable energy sources such as wind.

"Sometimes people will pay you to take energy off their hands," Ellis told CNBC. "Instead of putting that energy in a battery, what if we can use this extra low-cost renewable energy to make something that would otherwise be very carbon-intensive? And then the first on the list of things that are carbon-intensive -- it's cement."

Cement is a necessary ingredient in concrete, which is the cornerstone of global construction and infrastructure, because it's cheap, strong and durable. Four billion metric tons, which is the equivalent of 50,000 fully loaded airplanes, of cement is produced each year, according to a 2023 report from management consulting company McKinsey. The value of the market was $323 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $459 billion by 2028, according to SkyQuest Technology Consulting.

Cement powder is conventionally made by crushing raw materials, including limestone and clay, mixing with ingredients such as iron and fly ash, and putting it all into a kiln that heats the ingredients up to about 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. That process of making cement generates approximately 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions, which are a leading cause of global warming.

When Chiang had the idea to electrify cement manufacturing, he turned to Ellis. "He's super busy, so he was like, 'Go off and figure it out,'" Ellis told CNBC.

So she did.

In 2020, Ellis and Chiang co-founded Sublime Systems to refine and scale up the electrochemical process they created for making cement.

Posted by at June 29, 2023 6:52 AM