A California company has revitalized an old building in Caledonia and found a way to make eco-friendly building materials out of ash from the nearby We Energies power plant.
It’s not a partnership Tom Pounds expected when CalStar Products went looking for a place for its first manufacturing facility.
But it has become a business relationship that Pounds hopes will help the Newark, CA-based business fulfill its mission of green building innovation and advance We Energies’ efforts to reduce its own environmental footprint.
It’s a vision We Energies shares, spokesman Brian Manthey said.
“We’re at the point where we’re finding a beneficial use for close to 100 percent of our coal ash produced in making electricity. CalStar is just another piece of that,” Manthey said
With CalStar, the fly ash produced from burning coal to make electricity at the Oak Creek power plant is transformed into bricks.
“Every clay brick you see in the world, even with fairly modern manufacturing processes, produces about a pound of carbon dioxide,” explained Pounds, CalStar’s chief executive officer. “As a result there is this huge carbon footprint.”
With the ash-infused bricks, builders get all the strength of common blocks. But, since they don’t need to be fired in a 2,000 to 2,800-degree kiln, like traditional bricks, the eco-bricks and pavers can be made using an estimated 85 percent less energy. They also contain about 40 percent recycled materials.
Working with We Energies
CalStar, which began in 2007, spent several years in research and development testing fly ash from 75 or 80 sources around country before reaching out to five utility companies.
All responded to CalStar’s ideas, but Pounds said We Energies stood out.
“We Energies and the Oak Creek plant ended up on a short list of locations that were well located commercially; they were near good markets for bricks and pavers. And we also felt that their material worked well with our process,” Pounds said.
We Energies also went a step further and offered to help CalStar find a manufacturing facility.
That search, coordinated by We Energies’ real estate development arm, WISPARK, led CalStar to the former Young Radiator manufacturing building, 2825 Four Mile Road, just west of Douglas Avenue.
CalStar moved into the building, which had been used for light warehousing, in 2009. The company’s first shipment went out in spring 2010.
So far, the company is using about one-third of the building. But, Pounds said, there are hopes to expand that as CalStar develops other product lines, including blocks for retaining walls and gardens, as well as roofing materials and mortar.
About 30 people work at the Caledonia facility. The company has about 15 employees at its headquarters near Silicon Valley in California.