What is your background?
I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, where my father worked at NASA's Shuttle Program. My father was very hands on, and growing up we had piles of aggregate, sand, and cement as part of his weekend concrete projects. My father taught me how to make concrete in a Dixie cup when I was 7 and ever since I've been fascinated with "liquid stone."
Throughout my life, I have collected various rocks and shells and have always been interested in how their beautiful forms took shape into hard and durable materials. My material driven focus led me to degrees in architecture. Architects are responsible for selecting materials for the built environment. With this charge, I committed to understanding materials from cradle to grave.
Portland cement (the key ingredient in concrete) is responsible for 8% of global carbon emissions, due to the need for burning limestone that releases carbon in a process called calcination. Concrete is the second most consumed substance on the planet following water, and has enabled our modern built environment.
How far along into your architectural career were you when you decided to take this chance?
In 2005 my graduate work included developing dissolving concrete formwork, and multiple formulations for performance enhanced concretes such as pollution absorbing, and increased insulative properties through driving new crystalline formation and porosity.
Upon graduation, I began teaching at both North Carolina State University and later at the American University of Sharjah. After a late night idea written down in my notes: "What if we could grow cement similar to blueprints found in nature?", I pursued research in my second bedroom "lab." After thousands of iterations, I had success and a decision to make. In 2012, with some early recognition, and my desire to commercialize this technology on a global scale, I knew the fastest path was to quit academia, and start Biomason full time.
Tell us about Biomason.
At Biomason, our 2030 goal is to take out 25% of carbon emissions from concrete. We are a biotechnology company serving the construction industry through a mission of delivering a "gray powder" replacement for Portland cement for both precast and ready-mix concrete.
We are currently a group of nearly 100 with 56 disciplines -- solving cement together with diverse backgrounds and creative approaches to problem solving. We are focused on curing the disease instead of treating the symptoms.
Where do you find inspiration?
Only 1/1000th of a percent of bacteria has been discovered. I am both inspired and truly humbled by natural diversity and the millions of years biology has been adapting to survive changes in the natural environment.
"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." Albert Einstein
We as a species have only scratched a tiny surface of what we can learn from our biological world and are at the beginning of a new biologically-based revolution.
Who are your heroes?
After Sunday lunch at my grandparent's house, we would all watch the latest David Attenborough nature program. Throughout his career, he has brought to life a collective understanding and appreciation for worlds unseen, at all scales on our planet.
During the Industrial Revolution, when society moved to centralized cities, our food supply chain was an accepted health risk due to poor preservation. Henry Heinz was a true hero through his pioneering of ingredient transparency, clever accelerated commercialization, and disruption to force new regulation -- enabling the creation of the FDA.
What excites you about the future of your industry?
Similar to the industrial revolution, bioindustrial technologies are overtaking the 19th and 20th centuries of chemistry and physics. Applications extend beyond synthetic/lab based food production to our everyday materials.
Portland cement was developed nearly 200 years ago, and has not seen meaningful disruption outside of steel reinforcement and chemical additives for accelerating cure time. Since Biomason was founded a decade ago, the last two years have brought forth a focus on decarbonization -- and that urgency we hear daily. To have a front row seat in an industry starting to shed stereotypes of being conservative and slow to change is humbling. An urgent environment requires creative acceleration. Instead of falling victim to apathy about the state of our planet, we have the opportunity to make meaningful adaptation.
What drives you to keep going when it’s really tough?
Working with both a world class group of investors and team members collectively aligned to taking out a ridiculous amount of CO2 from a $13 trillion global construction industry keeps me waking up excited at 4am.
I replenish in learning from historical disruptive commercial successes and thinking through our future supply chains 50, 100 and 200 years from now.
Does Biomason have core cultural values?
With a growing team nearing 100 and over 56 disciplines, we value diversity as a continuously adaptive high performing team. Our principles guide us:
1. We work as a team to keep ourselves and each other safe at all times.
2. We are doers, who deliver.
3. We prove the boldness of our vision with evidence.
4. We lead by example.
5. We grow together, and hold each other accountable.
6. We celebrate our success through our customer success.
What are you most proud of?
When there were just three of us, I accepted our first commercial order. This forced us to build out a team, production, and solve a multitude of problems along the way. We delivered on time.
In addition, we have a culture of continuous improvement, not slowing down and being data driven. We collect data like NASA, and understand this investment will fuel our future.