Decarbonizing the construction industry, starting from the products used in it, has been a major area of focus for the economy that aims for net zero emissions impact. A company called Adaptavate is working to create low emissions materials, used widely in the construction industry. They are made by fibrous crop by-products from food and fibre industries.
We interviewed Thomas Robinson, founder of Adaptavate, who described the company’s products, how they reduce emissions and its future development plans to scale its technology.
Mr Robinson, would you please share more about the history of the company?
Adaptavate was founded to demonstrate a different way of doing business on an industrial and international scale for the construction industry. I believe that industrial businesses can do both planetary good and economically well and Adaptavate is a demonstration of this.
After graduating, I decided to travel the world and do some jobs here and there (New Zealand, California…). To keep my adventures going, I embraced a simple, minimal, and ecological way of living. During this time, a friend gave me ‘Let my people go surfing. The Education of a Reluctant Businessman’ by Patagonia founder; Yvon Chouinard. That book had a great impact on me and nowadays I gift it to everyone who is starting a job at Adaptavate.
Once I was back in the UK, I began working as an on-site builder and plasterer before I studied for a Masters in Sustainable Architecture at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT). Through my thesis and with the inspiration taken from Yvon Chouinard, I developed what is now known as ‘Breathaboard’ (a scalable, carbon-negative alternative to one of the most widely used building products, plasterboard).
After this, I was encouraged to apply for an entrepreneur competition, winning a place on the Climate Kic accelerator program at Imperial College, London. These experiences gave me the tools to go from on-site builder to company builder, and Adaptavate was born.
Since then, Adaptavate has grown into a business that is not only ecologically regenerative on a global scale but also economically profitable as a by-product.
My vision is to consolidate Adaptavate as the world’s leader in the development and deployment of carbon-negative building products. Adaptavate has assembled a passionate, industry-leading team to be able to bring this vision to reality.
What are Adaptavate’s mission and climate goal?
We are leading the carbon revolution in the construction industry by 1. re-thinking and re-designing the way building materials are made and 2. scaling up our innovative carbon-negative materials and unique technology. Adaptavate is developing building materials as a form of Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU) and commercializing industrial processes to make low-carbon and carbon-negative construction products that are drop-in alternatives to standard materials, like plasterboard and plaster, that everyone can use and specify.
Our climate goal is for the construction industry to reach net zero emissions as soon as possible. That’s why we plan to license our technology to production partners around the world, accelerating the path to net zero through collaboration, and working with each other’s strengths.
What are your main products?
Breathaboard has enhanced thermal performance, reduces the risk of mould forming and it is totally compostable at the end of its life. What is more, this product is installed the same way as plasterboard but with lighter weight and to the same standards as wallboard. Breathaboard has been recognized by construction industry professionals as a revolutionary innovation that could also help to address the waste, resource scarcity and health of the construction sector.
Adaptavate is currently building a revolutionary development centre and accelerating its research to complete testing and licencing programs for Breathaboard. The company will take Breathaboard from the pilot line to buildings’ walls in early 2024.
Adaptavate enables CCU into mainstream building materials. It is not just formulations that matter here, it is how these proprietary formulations combine with our carbon-absorbing production processes leading to the manufacturing of industry-changing carbon-negative products for every builder or architect to use. Adaptavate has developed a world unique production process that absorbs carbon by using mineralization in a method called ‘accelerated carbonation’, which is essentially an industrial process that accelerates the creation of rocks (carbonation) from 1000’s of years to 10’s of hours on an industrial scale.
Breathaplasta is Adaptavate’s first market-ready product. It is performance plaster made easy; designed by builders for builders, and for healthier people, buildings, and planet. Breathaplasta consists of a range of plasters made of natural materials, with zero Portland cement, zero gypsum and zero plastic. Just add water and mix!
The Breathaplasta product line – which includes Breathaplasta Thermal, Universal and Smooth, is designed to provide high thermal performance, moisture regulation and acoustic insulation for better living comfort. It also has excellent fire performance and a lower environmental impact compared to mainstream plaster products.
There is a skills gap in the industry and performance, and energy-efficient products are often hard or different to install. Breathaplasta is designed to be a performance plaster, made easy, reducing installation time and cost.
How do you produce your low-carbon building materials? How do they reduce or avoid carbon emissions compared to competitive materials commonly used in the construction industry?
Adaptavate’s technology uses carbon-rich feedstocks as an input such as cellulosic by-products and wastes and binds them with low-carbon minerals and water to form a flat board material, drywall.
The production process uses c.40% less water than other board technology and absorbs low grade CO2, potentially from industrial emissions to enable the product to cure. This is instead of burning large quantities of natural gas as part of the curing of other board materials.
What’s more, the product is compostable at the end of its life and can grow more crops, adding to the ecological and economic flows of our planet. A completely circular and transformative way of making a commodity, drop-in alternative to conventional building materials.
Adaptavate is currently commissioning a pilot line in Bristol, UK, to develop and manufacture carbon negative wallboard materials at a larger scale, looking to license this industry-changing technology to the world’s largest building products manufacturers.
The company is working hard to validate and test the scalable and continuous production process of carbon negative plasterboard alternative, Breathaboard, so that it can hit the market at scale to ensure the transformative, global impact that the company was founded to achieve.
Adaptavate recognizes that it is not just products and formulations that lead to carbon-negative materials on a global scale. The focus of Adaptavate is to lead the ‘carbon revolution’ by developing and scaling the industrial ecosystems that enable carbon-negative building materials and carbon-absorbing production processes everywhere in the world.
Do you have any plans to use carbon capture and utilization technologies for some of your future products?
Yes, we are already doing it for Breathaboard at a laboratory scale, and we intend to scale this industrial process up over the next year and apply this process technology in the future with other construction products.
We are currently running two UK Government projects (Innovate UK) to investigate and lead the development of accelerated carbonation and carbon negativity of our products on a whole life cycle basis (cradle to cradle). This work is developing well and the reason the recent investment round was so oversubscribed.
What this work has shown is that it is not just one formulation or process that is going to get a product to carbon negativity, it is a new industrial ecosystem. Much like the Industrial Revolution was based on co-location of relevant industries or foundation processes, the inevitable carbon revolution that we are part of creates a carbon industrial ecosystem that readdresses waste streams, inputs and outputs and does not just take finite resources from the earth, emitting CO2, producing only capital profit.
This carbon revolution is what we, at Adaptavate, believe will be the industrial landscape of the future and will be the backbone of the future economy. It has to be, in order to sustain the growing human population as we currently know it. Our pioneering and proprietary processes are industry-leading. Our industrial development work is at an exciting phase to prove global scalability.
You announced plans to license your technology to the world’s largest building product manufacturers. What is the current progress?
We have an increasing interest from regional and international manufacturers. The market’s pull for near-to-market carbon-negative construction materials is increasing due to regulatory pushes. We are using what has worked in the global chemical industry where we can work with industrial partners around the world to take naturally variable feedstocks from their territory and characterize them in our development centre to meet their market standards.
This means we provide our production partners with the chemistry and industrial process technology to make a product in their territory using locally available feedstocks, tailored for their market. This is a business model that is unusual in the construction sector but is being very well received by our potential production partners.
The reason it works so well is because it plays to everyone’s strengths. Adaptavate has a world-leading technology platform using globally available, but variable wastes, and large industrial building product companies need to deploy capital to produce low-carbon or carbon-negative solutions for their market. This is where the growth is in the markets of tomorrow and this approach seems to be working for both parties. It’s an exciting time in a fast-growing market and with regulatory pushes increasing.
How is the announced in August £2 million ($2.54 million) investment round going to support your future development?
It is fundamental for accelerating our work on our carbon-negative variant and carbon capture processes. It has also sparked a lot of interest from potential licensees, and we are increasingly having very positive conversations with them.
In addition, we aim to build a world-leading team, and this has continued with the recent appointment of our new Head of Operations, Matt Roughton, whose role will be key in Adaptavate’s growth and acceleration plan to scale and commercialize our industrial processes globally.
He will establish and refine operational excellence principles throughout the business, introducing a quality assurance management focus for the products and processes. There are a number of chemistry, engineering and market-leading opportunities coming up soon too! In fact, we are currently looking for a Head Engineer.
You also mentioned you have a major announcement coming up. Could you please share something about that?
We have been working on several transformative milestones when it comes to the engineering and commissioning of our pilot line and the carbon negativity of Breathaboard. In parallel, we have also secured pivotal commercial agreements that will be announced soon. It is an exciting time for Adaptavators, the culmination of 9 years of hard work is starting to pay off, fuelled by a strong investment appetite and increasing market pull – but we can’t spill the beans all at once!