CleanTechies Podcast

#118 Carbon Negative Cement, DeepTech Development Frameworks, Hiring a Founding Team, Pointers on an IP Business, & More w/ Cody Finke (Brimstone)

August 22, 2023 Silas MΓ€hner - ClimateTech & ESG Headhunter Season 1 Episode 118
#118 Carbon Negative Cement, DeepTech Development Frameworks, Hiring a Founding Team, Pointers on an IP Business, & More w/ Cody Finke (Brimstone)
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CleanTechies Podcast
#118 Carbon Negative Cement, DeepTech Development Frameworks, Hiring a Founding Team, Pointers on an IP Business, & More w/ Cody Finke (Brimstone)
Aug 22, 2023 Season 1 Episode 118
Silas MΓ€hner - ClimateTech & ESG Headhunter

In this episode, Silas Mahner (@silasmahner) and Cody Finke (@cody_finke), the Co-Founder of Brimstone discuss Cody's journey into climate and how they are revolutionizing the cement space.

They have created a cement product that has just been approved as certified Portland Cement - This is the main cement used in the construction of buildings. The best part, it's carbon neutral in many cases negative (depending on the energy source used).

This is a truly revolutionary technology and we can't wait to see it at commercial scale in the next few years.

Enjoy the Episode! 🌎

πŸ“Ί πŸ‘€ Prefer to watch: subscribe on YouTube.

πŸ“« Interested in written summaries and takeaways from the episode? Subscribe to the newsletter.

Want to be part of the community and engage further? Check out the Slack Channel. https://tinyurl.com/mwkn8zk5

-----
Links:
**Connect with Cody: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cody-finke-ph-d-213b88ab
**Brimstone Website: https://www.brimstone.com/
**Check out our Sponsor, NextWave Partners: https://www.next-wavepartners.com/
**Follow CleanTechies on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/clean-techies/
**HMU on Twitter: @silasmahner

-----
Other episodes you might enjoy:
**Most Recent Episode: Early Stage Hiring Decisions, Heeding the Lessons from CleanTech 1.0, Energize's $300m Growth Fund Close, & More w/ Eileen Waris (Energize Capital)
**Similar Topic: From Restaurants to ClimateTech: Building a Carbon Capture Concrete Company w/ Tim Sperry (Carbon Limit)**Something Totally Different: Cutting Building 
Heat Loss Via Windows & Building a Platform for Glass Technology Firms w/ Anas Kassas (INOVUES)

Support the Show.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, Silas Mahner (@silasmahner) and Cody Finke (@cody_finke), the Co-Founder of Brimstone discuss Cody's journey into climate and how they are revolutionizing the cement space.

They have created a cement product that has just been approved as certified Portland Cement - This is the main cement used in the construction of buildings. The best part, it's carbon neutral in many cases negative (depending on the energy source used).

This is a truly revolutionary technology and we can't wait to see it at commercial scale in the next few years.

Enjoy the Episode! 🌎

πŸ“Ί πŸ‘€ Prefer to watch: subscribe on YouTube.

πŸ“« Interested in written summaries and takeaways from the episode? Subscribe to the newsletter.

Want to be part of the community and engage further? Check out the Slack Channel. https://tinyurl.com/mwkn8zk5

-----
Links:
**Connect with Cody: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cody-finke-ph-d-213b88ab
**Brimstone Website: https://www.brimstone.com/
**Check out our Sponsor, NextWave Partners: https://www.next-wavepartners.com/
**Follow CleanTechies on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/clean-techies/
**HMU on Twitter: @silasmahner

-----
Other episodes you might enjoy:
**Most Recent Episode: Early Stage Hiring Decisions, Heeding the Lessons from CleanTech 1.0, Energize's $300m Growth Fund Close, & More w/ Eileen Waris (Energize Capital)
**Similar Topic: From Restaurants to ClimateTech: Building a Carbon Capture Concrete Company w/ Tim Sperry (Carbon Limit)**Something Totally Different: Cutting Building 
Heat Loss Via Windows & Building a Platform for Glass Technology Firms w/ Anas Kassas (INOVUES)

Support the Show.

Silas Mahner:

Welcome back to another episode of the CleanTechies podcast, where we interview Climatech founders and VCs to discuss all things building and investing to solve the biggest challenge of our generation climate change. Today we have a really exciting conversation, and I know I say that almost every time, but today is a bit different. Why, you might ask. Well, I believe we had the chance to speak with someone who has invented a technology that will be considered as one of the greatest innovations in building materials in this century, perhaps even this millennia. I know it sounds a little bit exaggerated, but I'm very, very excited.

Silas Mahner:

Today we spoke with Cody Finke, the co-founder and CEO of Brimstone. They have invented a third method of creating Portland cement and for those unaware, portland cement is the cement engineers will specify when engineering buildings. They will rarely veer from this, given the potential risks of using other unproven concrete and cement. This cement accounts for about 5% of global emissions and Brimstone has developed a carbon neutral and, in some cases, carbon negative method of creating cement that they believe, at scale will be at cost parity with current conventional cement prices. This conversation covers everything from his journey into climate, how he started the company, experience, fundraising and some of the insights around that area, as well as advice to founders on hiring and developing deep tech. Today an incredible episode. I'm very glad to have had the opportunity to speak with Cody and nerd out about concrete, at least a little bit. Hopefully this episode will cement your excitement for concrete. Enjoy the episode. All right, welcome to the show, cody. How's it going?

Cody Finke:

Yeah, thanks, silas, it's going quite well. How are you doing?

Silas Mahner:

I am fine as frog here. I'm excited to have you on, really ready to nerd out about concrete and cement a little bit. I'm really excited to have you on. To be honest with you, we had kind of an internal debate with some of my colleagues this week about how concrete and cement are super exciting to us. Some of the other people were like no, I don't know.

Cody Finke:

I don't know how you get excited about that. Yeah, I think most people are. I don't know how to get excited about that camp, but I'm with you. Yeah, I'm excited about it.

Silas Mahner:

I think it's super fascinating. So let's start off just by giving a quick intro to yourself and who you are and kind of you can tie into that how you ended up getting into climate.

Cody Finke:

Yeah. So yeah, my name is Cody Finke. I'm the co-founder of a company called Brimstone and, as we've alluded to here, brimstone is working on eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the production of cement, and sure we'll get into this. But mentored course is responsible for about 5.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That's pretty similar to cars, right? Cars are something like 6.5%. So it might be hard to get excited about cement and concrete, but if you can get excited about the quantity of CO2 emissions that cars, or eliminating those emissions from cars, you could probably get excited about eliminating the CO2 emissions from cement. Yeah then, sorry, you wanted a background.

Silas Mahner:

Yeah, I'm curious about your background and kind of how you ended up specifically getting into climate and maybe in particular, you know, were you always a fan of trying to solve the concrete issue or do that kind of come by accident?

Cody Finke:

Yeah, I certainly wasn't a fan of that, but I'll get to that, yeah, so my professional background is I'm a chemist by training. That's what I did my undergraduate work in, and then I went and got a PhD in environmental science and engineering, where I worked on primarily electrochemistry and I you know, to get to your point, I was not always excited about cement and concrete. I started out working on wastewater treatment for applications in low-income countries and then I moved on to water electrolysis to make clean hydrogen and then I moved on to working on the fertilizer problem so it's basically greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing fertilizer and then ultimately moved to cement. But I think, like my sort of interest in working on climate and environmental issues started a long time before that, I think the first time I started trying to solve something is. So I grew up in Seattle and, just like as a, I've always been just thought outdoors and mountain climbing and all that kind of stuff was super cool. I would look up a Mount Rainier and that was, you know, the coolest thing ever. And I learned from going to an inconvenient truth like Al Gore's movie, which was, you know, back when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school that you know, those glaciers on Mount Rainier, which I thought was so cool, were threatened and I was like that's just, that's devastating. Now I've realized that there are more, maybe more important impacts than the glaciers on Mount Rainier, although that is still devastating. But yeah, after that I started like environmental club in my high school and I started a compost program. I would personally re-bag and take out compost bins in my high school for three years of high school every day, or was it every day? Maybe it was every other day, I think it was every other day. And yeah, that was sometimes a little convenient because if I was hungry and there was some perfectly good food in there I would do a little dumpster diving.

Cody Finke:

But yeah, what wasn't really wasn't really specifically focused on any one area. I guess was concerned about climate in general and as I went through school and into graduate school I became really interested in sort of these orphan problems, right, like these huge environmental problems that folks aren't really working on. So the first one, of course, was wastewater treatment and then got very interested in, of course, that fertilizer problem and then eventually cement and what you know. The statistic that I know now that kind of distills it right is that, if you look at dollars invested in decarbonization, per ton of greenhouse gas emissions, right? If you look at transportation, it's like $14 or $15 invested and if you look at cement, it's like one penny. So it's. It is a problem that is huge and it's a problem that is rarely worked on. And that's kind of exactly where where I want to be. What one of the things that interests me the most?

Silas Mahner:

Hey there, quick break to remind any founders or VCs listening. If you are looking for deal flow, seeking to raise funding, looking for partners to help service your needs, or perhaps you're looking for corporate investment partners, feel free to reach out to us through our Slack channel, which can be found in the description, because we meet a lot of people in this space. We set aside time each week to make introductions to the various people that we encounter. This is something we do free of charge in order to help these incredible companies solving climate change to scale. Looking forward to hearing from you in the Slack channel. So that's, by the way, very fascinating and kind of sad to hear. But how did you? Did you particularly choose chemistry as a as a focus for study because you wanted to solve climate solutions, or did you just like, hey, I'm interested in this, and then you found your way into it? I'm kind of curious about the decision making process, since kind of climate was a was an important thing to you all the way back in high school.

Cody Finke:

Yeah, so I also I've been really psyched on science ever since you know, starting I mean far back, I can remember it. Just it made a lot more sense to me than than I guess, like humanities or or or something like that. It just sort of matched the way that my, my brain, my brain thinks and I kind of I was, you know, sort of broadly interested. I took a lot of, you know, biology, physics and chemistry related courses all throughout you know, high school and college, and I kind of found, as I got like more advanced in the coursework, that my interests really focused on chemistry. And a friend of mine, kind of Ian McKay, you know, put it in a, I think, a, really a way that really resonates me right, like for different people there's going to be, you know, we can work, we can work on things and learn things and we can, you know, work to a level where we can understand things. If you pull it back a little bit from like the limit of our understanding is like a zone where you can be creative.

Cody Finke:

And I felt like with chemistry for me I felt like in all my advanced coursework like I was really in a zone where I could be creative when I was studying chemistry, whereas I felt like you know, so the like, so the other side says like either biology or physics, I was like either. I was pushing up on my limit to have understanding. I'm such, you know, I'm not sure exactly the deals, but how my brain worked is like you know, chemistry just clicked with me in a different way, but I really saw, and I still see, that there were tools in you know, really any discipline that you can use to work on a lot of really important problems. Right when I was first studying chemistry and a lot of other stuff, a lot of biology and physics too. I was also interested in, you know, hiv vaccines. I won a scholarship for a research program on a developing like an HIV vaccine. But you know, who knows who would have worked.

Cody Finke:

I didn't end up doing anything on it, but you know a lot of these. There's a lot of really interesting, important problems out there and I was, you know. I think I could have been happy working on a lot of different ones. Yeah, and I didn't specifically go into chemistry because of climate. I wanted to chemistry because it felt the most exciting to me and I applied that to climate problems. I think you can apply anything to climate problems really.

Silas Mahner:

Hey there. Are you building a climate tech business and looking for very specialized talent? Consider reaching out to our sponsors, next Wave Partners. Next Wave are experts in talent acquisition, recruitment and retention across the climate tech, renewables and ESG spaces globally. So if your team is growing or you're looking to make a career change yourself, feel free to reach out to Next Wave at Next-WavePartnerscom or reach out to one of their consultants directly via their LinkedIn page. Yeah, as it so happens, you picked an area to study. That's extremely important. My chemistry is like a really huge. There's so many solutions that can come out of it, so it's really fascinating. I'm kind of curious when did you decide that you wanted to be an entrepreneur and build things? Did it just come to you that you're like hey, like there's no other companies I can work for in this space that are doing this, that I have to do it myself? Or was it something you always wanted to do?

Cody Finke:

Yeah, I did not grow up wanting to be an entrepreneur and it was pretty recent before I started the company. So when I was, I was working on this waste-faring tree wind system for applications in low-income countries in the early days of grad school and that was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Gates Foundation they did a lot of coaching of us as graduate students and one of the things that they would talk about and I'm paraphrasing here is that there's, you know, in the global economic system we have, which is basically capitalism, there's sort of two ways to go about changing things. So the first is you would go try to change the global economic system right, and you could do that in relatively minor ways by, like, trying to figure out taxes or policies that work within the constraints of the system we have, or you could try to overhaul it completely, or you could try to start a company and have that company produce a product where the value over cost ratio is higher than what existed before, and you can change things that way and I think both are great ways to work on, to change things, like if you I think everyone needs to look at you know the skills and abilities that they have, and I don't have, you know, any political inclination or understanding of, you know, politics. So, like, going the political route seemed complicated. So I ultimately said, okay, well, starting a or going through companies seems like a way that matched my skills, which, like you know, chemists I can think about, think about just building processes or things that could you know, do chemistry, but I would say that the, the actually starting the business took a little bit longer.

Cody Finke:

So I became comfortable with the idea that, like, businesses were the way that things changed. If you, maybe we're a scientist that built things, but I, you know, thought like, oh well, maybe I could be a researcher or and like put a bunch of things out there, but one of the things that I realized is that no one, no one, cares as much about the thing that you invented right, except for the person who invented it. And, more importantly, like, what you invent is almost certainly not actually that good, right, it needs to be changed quite a bit. So, going yourself I think that going yourself through the scale up process and engineering process is really important to you know, making sure that, or having the best chance of making an impact- yeah, interesting.

Silas Mahner:

Now I think that that is interesting here. You had to come to the realization that it was. It was time to go take the reins and go for it. But one thing I'm kind of curious is, so far, what would you say has been your biggest difficulty as a founder from a skills perspective, and how you've solved it. Like, how have you kind of closed the gap on that?

Cody Finke:

Yeah. So to be honest with you, like I'm really interested in solving big global problems like climate, and you know, for example, I was right working on this cement I'm the steps in order that are necessary to do that sometimes seem a little bit confusing, right? And so, for example, like one of the things you have to do is you have to get money from investors, and getting money from investors involves trying to convince groups that already have quite a bit of money that they're going to make a lot more money, and this sort of intermediate step just never felt like a very exciting problem for me. I don't really care about trying to figure out how to maximize the money of an organization that already has a lot of money, right, I can't even talk about climate, so I understand that it's necessary. You know, if you're going to do, you know, in the system that we have, if you're going to use private business to solve big problems, then we all need access to capital, and to get access to capital, you need to, you know, figure out ways for the folks that have capital to make a lot of money so that they give you their capital.

Cody Finke:

But it's just like that was often a fairly boring aspect of the job for me because it's just like I just didn't really feel like I was solving a problem, but I had to, like get into a new mindset of like, well, this is not necessarily a problem, but it is a necessary step on, you know, trying to solve the problem.

Cody Finke:

That's really of interest. So, yeah, and that's and that took a lot of growth. You know kind of started in graduate school, where I was, like you know, initially try to be like okay, well, this technology works, like can't we just start a business around it? And like people will pay a bit more and it'll be fine? And I realized, well, actually, no, like in fact, people need to pay a lot, need to pay a lot less, because it's not only does the process need to be, need to make folks money, and that the amount of money that folks need to make needs to be adjusted for the risk of a new process. So it's definitely been a lot of growth being able to think about these problems and I've gotten to the point where, you know, I almost enjoy it as much as like a step in, a step in anything else.

Silas Mahner:

Yeah, I think it's super important it is. Sometimes I've seen with recruitment, some of the technical engineers and the folks that I work with, they just don't have the patience for the commercial, not because they can't do it, but because, like, this seems stupid, right, like I'd rather work on something else more more interesting, right? So it's interesting that you have to have you kind of had to learn that and get up to speed on that. So let's kind of shift a little bit to talk, let's talk a little bit of specifics about what you're doing with Brimstone, with with in mind that you know, most of us are not chemists, so give us an explanation that we could, that we could kind of go to our, go to our grandma and explain later tonight. Hey, there Are you building a climate tech business and looking for very specialized talent?

Silas Mahner:

Consider reaching out to our sponsors, next Wave Partners. Next Wave are experts in talent acquisition, recruitment and retention across the climate tech, renewables and ESG spaces globally. So if your team is growing or you're looking to make a career change yourself, feel free to reach out to Next Wave at next-wavepartnerscom or reach out to one of their consultants directly via their LinkedIn page.

Cody Finke:

Totally. Yeah, I have explained this to my grandma. She's quite a sharp woman, but she is not a chemist, so I'll try my best to replicate that. So I'll start with how cement is conventionally produced, right? So so far in history, cement has been made via two processes. Okay, so the first process, which is, you know, today, the dominant process, by far the dominant process, it's called the dry process. And you start with a rock called limestone, and you need to get the calcium out of that limestone, because cement is ultimately made out of calcium, and in limestone that calcium is bonded to CO2, carbon dioxide, and so you have to heat up that limestone that drives off the CO2 from the limestone, and then you can manipulate the calcium and turn it into ordinary Portland cement, which is, you know, what cement is. You know that's that, that's the cement we use. It's called ordinary Portland cement. Okay, so, the first process, that's, you know, the one that's responsible for five and a half percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. The second process that we don't really do too much anymore is you make ordinary Portland cement from gypsum. Right, that's a rock that also has calcium in it, but that calcium instead is bonded to sulfate. So in order to get that calcium you have to burn off the sulfate, which makes either smog forming sulfur dioxide or sulfuric acid, and we used to use that process when we didn't have a better way to make sulfuric acid. Now we have a better way to make sulfuric acid, so we don't use that process anymore because sulfuric acid is not a very nice thing to use, to leave as a waste product. So those are the sort of the two ways that cement has been made in the past.

Cody Finke:

What we at Brimstone we did is we just we have invented a third way to make ordinary Portland cement. So we use a different rock, neither gypsum nor limestone. We use what's called a calcium silicate rock and instead of it has calcium in it, just like gypsum and limestone, but instead of being bonded to either carbon dioxide or sulfuric acid, our rock, the calcium, is bonded to silicates and it turns out that silicates are another ingredient in cement, so it's a pretty convenient thing for it to be bonded to. So we do a chemical process we separate up the calcium, we concentrate it, we recombine it with some of the silicate and then our process produces ordinary Portland cement and it does not form any you know, global warming or acid forming gases, because there's none of those in the rock to start with.

Cody Finke:

What it does form instead is actually a magnesium compound. It's typically magnesium hydroxides. Are, you know, not important, I guess, if you're not interested, but there's. Magnesium compounds will passively sequester CO2. So just sitting in air they'll react with CO2 in the air to form magnesium carbonates, and magnesium carbonates are permanently stored CO2. And what that means is our process is actually carbon negative, right? Instead of emitting CO2 from the rock, the rock sucks CO2 in. So for a wide range of energy sources, that makes our process, you know, net carbon negative, which is awesome because we don't necessarily have to wait for clean energy to be available everywhere in the world before we can scale and still be carbon negative. So that allows us to be fast, which is really great. And then also, you know, recently, a couple of weeks ago now, we announced some news where we had a third party actually certify our cement as ordinary Portland cement. So now we officially are, you know, we officially have invented the third process to make our near-plot of cement. It's pretty cool yeah.

Silas Mahner:

That's probably a huge point, so we can skip ahead to this. I wanted to talk about that at some point. So are you referring to the C150 certification? Yeah, that's right. Yeah, so I wanted to just ask kind of from I would be curious to understand I don't think it's going to be necessarily extremely helpful that says, other people are trying to do this exact thing, but from a regulatory perspective, like what were the new general kind of key things that you had to go through and what was that process like to get to that point? I would be really curious to hear your experience. Yeah.

Cody Finke:

So I'd love to share and let me just start with a little bit of the theory and background about why we're doing it this way. So we always try to use frameworks, we try to develop what we thought needed to be true in order to decarbonize cement quickly. Again, when we say quickly, we mean just on a time scale that's relevant for avoiding the worst effects of climate change, and there's some great pathways laid out by the IPCC and we looked at. You could basically take one of two strategies you could either try to make something that's better than ordinary Portland cement or you could try to make ordinary Portland cement, and people have been trying to make something that's better than ordinary Portland cement for a long time, and there have been regulatory standards that allow for the use of these alternative cements, many of which are lower, zero carbon, and those regulatory standards have existed for something like 30 years, right? Astmc 1157 is an example of that, but still basically nobody uses that type of cement, and we thought that was curious, right?

Cody Finke:

So we talked to structural engineers and what we learned was, if you're a structural engineer and you're specifying the cement in a building, you really don't want that building to fall down, and if it falls down, a lot of people could be injured or die, A lot of. You'll lose a lot of money. Right Be a really really bad thing. So it's something you really really want to avoid and you have. So they're okay, that's what you want to avoid. You have a choice. Right then you could either use the exact same cement that's always been used to build buildings that's ordinary Portland cement or you could use a new material which maybe is lower carbon or higher strength or something like that. And the reality is is there are unknown unknowns and we don't know exactly how that new material would perform. So structural engineers do not want to specify a new material, regardless of the standard. So we said, okay, we don't want to make a new material, we want to make the exact same material. So we said, okay, we believe in order to decarbonize cement quickly, you need to make ordinary Portland cement. So then we looked around and we said where's all the calcium in the world? Cause, that's what you need to make ordinary Portland cement.

Cody Finke:

And it was in three places limestone, gypsum and silicate rocks. Folks had made cement out of limestone and gypsum before. They'd never made cement out of silicate rocks. So that's what we did and what the certification process involved really was like. Reinventing the entire process. We had to start with a new starting material.

Cody Finke:

Nearly all the unit operations are different, so it was a lot of modeling, a lot of theory, a ton of lab work. The scientists and engineers that work for brimstone spent a ton of hours getting the process that worked on paper to work in the lab, and then we had to produce enough for the test. And the test, mind you, is geared for giant cement plants, so it's a test that's done routinely. Every time a batch is made in a cement plant. They'll do this test to make sure that this cement is up to specification.

Cody Finke:

But because it's geared for giant cement plants, it requires sort of a lot of material. So we had to spend a long time at a really early stage of the company gathering that material to send off for testing and producing it in lab scale equipment, to be confident that we actually did make what we were intending to make. And the good news is the answer is yes, we can make it, which is pretty exciting, and what we feel it means is like it's a, we've now shown that there is a credible pathway to decarbonize all of cement production, not just a fraction of cement production that might be replaced with a different material. It's really all of cement production that we could now decarbonize, which is pretty cool.

Silas Mahner:

I mean that's amazing, right, that's you've removed all the barriers to entry, right? So just out of curiosity, like I wanna get the very honest answer, are there any other companies who have actually come up with this process yet, or is this totally like completely new?

Cody Finke:

This is completely new. Yeah, so you know it's a good whenever we think that we like to do a little sanity check and figure out, well, you know why would that be Right? And you know the real answer is because it gets some. It gets into a pretty interesting part of the cement world. So to make cement, what you actually have to do is you need to mix the ordinary protein cement that comes out of a cement plant with something called supplementary cementitious materials, and supplementary cementitious materials today are the waste product from burning coal. So typically it's fly ash which is burning coal in a coal-fired power plant right Plays coal-fired electricity. But you can also get it from primary steel production and that sort of thing, and that's how we make cement that has the wonderful properties that you can build skyscrapers out of.

Cody Finke:

But the production of fly ash and you know, or these supplementary cementitious materials has slowed over the last several decades as we've thankfully transitioned away from coal, and what that means is the cement industry has run into problems. Sourcing this material and cement is one of the reasons why cement has gotten more expensive. Well, it turns out that that silicate rock that we make cement out of was left behind and passes the other ASTM standard for cement, which is C618, which specifies supplementary cementitious materials, which means that our process is actually a source for both ordinary protein cement and supplementary cementitious materials. And as supplementary cementitious materials were abundant, then our process would probably be too expensive. But because they're not abundant right, because of this transition away from coal, our process, we believe, would be lower cost at scale. And we think that folks other folks had not invented this because they, you know, had grown up in a world where supplementary cementitious materials were abundant enough and therefore there wasn't a lot of motivation to work on this. So we kind of had the right idea at the right time.

Silas Mahner:

Yeah, it's just very fascinating. Because if it is, it's very hard for people, like as a recruiter. Sometimes I work with companies where I'm forced to say, like I'm pretty sure this is the only technology in the world. And you always hate saying that because you're like what if I'm wrong? Like what if somebody else does actually have this? But it is true, right, a lot of things have been invented, have been the first technology, right, I'm sure of course there'll be many copycats to follow in the quick succession, but it is really cool. So congrats on that. That's obviously really really huge. I am curious. There's a lot of things I'd like to ask, but I think perhaps the next question would be what is the business model that you guys have settled on? What do you focus on and how to make money? What steps are next to really get to that process?

Cody Finke:

Yeah, it's another great question because making money is important and we're not gonna scale. What I've learned right Is we're not gonna scale quickly unless we make money and really, unless we make our product for the same value, right, we still make the same cement but for a lower price point. So we've done a lot of research in the conventional cement companies that make all the cement today. In general we've done a lot of research on the real. They are appropriately risk averse, like their business works really really well and they don't want to put a lot of money into an R&D program with unclear results.

Cody Finke:

So we think that the best way to interact with all the big cement companies will be to scale our process completely, as in build a completely full scale plant and that'll take a few scale ups or working on a pilot plant right now and then we're gonna build a first commercial plant which will be sub-scale and then we'll later build a full scale plant. And once we build a full scale plant, like the risk factor will sort of go away and we'll have lots of options right. Good license technologies to existing producers. Where it's appropriate and I hope that that will happen a lot we could join venture. That's commonly done or where there's no interred party. We could build on and operate ourselves and we're kind of going to decide based on what's the most attractive business case at the time. But we're really clear that you have to build a full scale plant in order to get there.

Silas Mahner:

So essentially, just to reiterate that what you're going to do is, through the funding you've raised, or next round, et cetera, we'll build and demonstrate that this is possible on a commercial scale, the same way it already is being used, and from that point you've basically de-risked other companies, saying, okay, here's the instruction manual for us to go build one of those plants ourselves, and then we'll just pay you a licensing fee. Is that correct? That's exactly right. Yeah, okay, interesting. And what is it like trying to build those kind of the pilot plants? Do you have to find a partner to work with? Are you funding it off of the balance? Do you have find a partner who wants to, who's like really interested, or a corporate who wants to try to see if they can get this to work too? I'm really curious because there's been many models that people have followed for the pilot projects.

Cody Finke:

Yeah, so for us, we're finding that our pace and interest are driving this fastest on our own. So we raised enough venture capital funds to build the pilot plant on our own balance sheet. And that's really important because because we are the first to invent this process and we have a lot of very valuable intellectual property associated with that by building ourselves, that ensures us our ability to maintain ownership of our intellectual property, which is the biggest value crater at Brimstone, so that's a really important strategy, given where our value is.

Silas Mahner:

That's really interesting. I guess I never considered that Somebody else might try to lay claim right. Yeah, okay, interesting. And then so, with the fact that you've gotten this announcement recently, what is it like? Can you walk us through the funding process for the startup right? How did you, how did it start? Where'd you get the money from? And then what were the big milestones? And then, when you hit this recent one, did you know? Did VCs just come banging on the door saying we want in, kind of thing?

Cody Finke:

Yeah, so it all starts. So found the company with my co-founder, hugo. We both were at Caltech at the time and our first funding came from a couple of grants from Caltech, I think in total we got $50,000 for R&D and then another $50,000 and then through the Caltech Office of Technology Transfer and then another $50,000 grant from the Caltech Rocket Fund and they that allowed us to sort of start our research. And then I got a what was then a postdoc at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, which is an entrepreneurial postdoc called Psychiatron Road and now it's called Activate, which was funded by the Department of Energy's Advanced Manufacturing Office and gave us a lab space up at Berkeley Lab in the Bay Area. And that was critical because we had, you know, not even close to a technology that was ready for investment, nor did we have enough money to get in a lab. But we needed lab space and that program was really really critical. And then, through the mentoring and networking associated with that program, activate, we were able to meet a lot of venture capitalists and eventually our technology got mature enough where it was ready for venture capitalists and we started.

Cody Finke:

You know, we kind of had a strategy. There was like, okay, if we're going to work on one of the largest, one of the largest problems and most expensive problems to work on in the world, and we need some folks with really, really deep pockets. So we really targeted a firm called Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which is going to Bill Gates and all of his richest friends, I like to say, who are quite rich, who are concerned about climate, and they funded us with some seed funding and that was, you know, the first money. I think everyone else is the first one with the hardest.

Cody Finke:

I think we went through like nine months of diligence for a relatively small check and then after that, we made quite a few technical milestones, built a flow sheet, a model, that flow sheet and, you know, chemical engineering software. We got a team and we were able to demonstrate enough to convince ourselves that, ultimately, venture capitalists in our process had a reasonable shot of being, you know, economical at scale, and so we were able to then raise relatively quickly, our series A, which we raised about a year ago now or a little bit more, which was substantially larger, is like the lion's share of that $60 million. And, yeah, and that's actually, you know, providing us a war chest for quite some time. So we're not. You know we're not actually currently fundraising, so it's certainly there's been some interest from this announcement from venture capitalists and we appreciate and you know we'll. We're in some conversations.

Cody Finke:

But it's not a, you know, it's not a huge, urgent goal for us to fundraise right now. I think there's going to be. There's several more milestones yet to come that we can do with our, with our financing, before necessarily need to raise.

Silas Mahner:

I think that's quite interesting. Usually, by the time people get to these big milestones, they're running on empty right, so they're looking for that next check. But that's really a good position to be in. Okay, very cool. This is, this is interesting. So I want what should I ask next? One thing I want to understand is I think this was already talked about, but, just to clarify, this process is completely different. This is not something that other plants can be retrofitted to do correct. This has to be a completely brand new build or totally like swap out the equipment.

Cody Finke:

Yeah. So I mean, there's, there's, there's, no, there's no set rules in this world. But I would be surprised if it made economic sense to retrofit a cement, a cement plant, basically with anything. I've actually got an interesting story about that, so you know, so I, first of all, I should say, like you know, there are, you know, a lot of the equipment. We use it differently, but we still use the same equipment. So you probably could retrofit existing cement plant or, to minimize costs, cement plant sit on top of their quarries and we would do the same thing and we quarry a different rock, right, we don't quarry a rock which has CO2 in it. So that would already be a challenge. You'd have to ship in the rock, which would add a lot of cost. So it wouldn't make a lot of sense to retrofit it, even if, even though you could. And then the.

Cody Finke:

The more important question is like is retrofitting in general a good strategy? And you know, one of the things that we've learned from the cement industry is that cement plants are very rarely retrofit. The once you turn the thing on, it prints money, right. So turning it off is a really bad proposition unless you can save an enormous amount of money and the it is hard to imagine being able to save a lot, the amount of money that's required in order to turn a cement plant off or you know, for a lengthy, a lengthy amount of time. And that really comes down to thermodynamics, right, because the amount of energy that is consumed to make cement in the conventional process is very, very close to the minimum energy that's thermodynamically allowed to use, and they break a lot of physics in order to use less energy. So there just is not that much room for cost savings in a conventional cement plant and therefore these facilities are pretty rarely retrofitted Because, you know, and when they are retrofitted, they try to retrofit them without turning the plant off, which means the retrofit takes a really, really long time.

Cody Finke:

So, looking at, there's a few carbon capture and sequestration projects that are retrofits, and the timelines for building those are like 10 years, whereas a new build cement plant is two or three years, wow. And the reason for that is they don't want to shut the plant off, right, that's how they make money in their business, especially for something like CCS, which would, unless there's a sizable subsidy structure or something like that, would add cost and make it more expensive. So, anyway, retrofits, I think, are a slow way to go compared to new builds. So there's, you know, a lot of reasons why we wouldn't want to retrofit, although probably technically could.

Silas Mahner:

Yeah, but I mean it's a good point to note because there's a lot of companies trying to build carbon capture solutions and it's something worth considering, right, like that's. That's, you know, getting to the point where, like, okay, this is like trying to build a nuclear plant right now, like it's not gonna. It's not gonna happen kind of thing, or it could, but it's over substantial amount of time. Yeah, exactly, yeah, yeah, that that sounds like an interesting challenge to tackle on another show. But one thing I did want to talk about, which is the you said you use a different type of rock, so people are always concerned about like, hey, we're going to run out of lithium and all these different things. What is the abundance of this and where is it found? Let's talk about you know kind of where in the world is found, if, if it's not everywhere, and then in particular in the US, if there's specific deposits of it.

Cody Finke:

Yeah, so this rock in general, calcium, silicate rocks in general, they make up about 50% of the rocks in the earth's crust. So now on the surface, like the easiest ones to mine, you know much less than that, just like limestone, but it's, it's a similar amount of like similar to limestone, which is like how, with how much there is on the surface. So there really is. And if you look up like the availability of availability of limestone, like the USGS is database, the availability is stated as virtually virtually limit list. So we are in the virtually limit list category of rocks. So we are.

Cody Finke:

You know, I think that the sun will consume the earth long before we run out of silicate rocks to make some head out of. But so, yeah, that's that is. That is not a concern. You know, our major concerns are more along the lines of dang, we're gonna need a lot of money to scale and we're gonna need, in order to get that money, we're probably need things like advanced market commitments, right? So like a contract to purchase the cement. And then you get into the world of okay, well, where is cement purchase? And it turns out that the federal government purchase like 50, 50% or more all the cement and at this time they don't do advanced market commitments. There's like those sorts of problems that like startup has but a big company maybe doesn't, because a big company has a lot of collateral and get loans from banks from, or they can also sell equity on the public market. You know, a small company we don't have access to banks and because we're higher risk process. So those are the things that concern us a lot more than the availability of rock.

Silas Mahner:

Yeah, well, that's good to hear. What I want to ask one quick question on is the a lot of people have worked with corporates, especially when they're going into like a heavy, heavy industry space. Do you have any corporate VC partners or corporates that have kind of invested, or maybe are the LPs, in particular of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a lot of corporates that have other you know intros that can make you in partnerships they can work with you on?

Cody Finke:

Yeah, so to come to mind directly, so the first is Amazon Amazon Climate Pledge so they consume a lot of cement to build all of their buildings, their you know fulfillment centers, data centers, everything else, so that they've been a really really great investor for us in that way. And then fifth wall there are, you know, they are a real estate development focused fund, I think. They're, you know, their LPs are like fifth walls investors represent like a third of the world's built environment or something like that. So they've been really awesome in helping us figure out the commercial side also. So, yeah, we've been lucky with some really really helpful investors.

Silas Mahner:

That's good that. Yeah, I think it's interesting to have the right partners. What one broad question about the concrete space in general would be? You know, are the people you know you mentioned there's a lot of different like capex to change things and do things, but are they generally like, fascinated to try to make cleaner concrete? Or, you know, how do you find the receptiveness of the industry?

Cody Finke:

Yeah. So I don't know too many folks that want to buy more expensive concrete, but I do know a lot of folks that want to buy clean concrete. So basically, how it goes is if you can make this the same material for a lower price point without the CO2 emissions, or even the same price point without the CO2 emissions, that's a huge win. But any more expensive it's not not not a win At least it's not a win for the world cement industry. There there certainly will be customers that are willing to spend more to be early adopters because they want the material now. They don't want in 20 years or 10 years or five years or you know whatever the you know. However far down the line they are, wherever the plant is. But yeah, it's only a win for the masses we find if it's also lower cost.

Silas Mahner:

Okay, so let's go on to the final section here before we run out of time. On kind of advice to founders, I think what I'd be curious to have you, because it seems like maybe obviously this is in retrospect. It seems clear cut. Obviously wasn't at the time, but when you look back, how would you advise other founders doing something that's totally new science on how to visualize the buckets and how to kind of bucket the times and phases they have to go through from idea to principle things Like how would you divide those out? And let's make it really clear for other really like deep tech founders who are looking to do something in the space?

Cody Finke:

Yeah. So I think that the like, I think this is like almost try to this point, but the most important thing is being willing to pivot, because the process that you developed in your head probably is awful and you need to be willing to like, let go of your favorite scientific, you know discovery Because you think it's not actually, doesn't actually make any economic sense, and instead do something else. So that's, I mean, that's overarching. The second thing is remember, like, try to try to assess the likelihood of the outcome. So we're all trying to build businesses here and you're not going to change the world or solve a climate problem or whatever if your business doesn't go anywhere. So you want and like how you could try to calculate, try to calculate the likelihood of the outcome with, like, an expected value calculation or is like, ok, the my business could be this big and this is the risk associated with it and you know. Therefore, the expected value of my business is, you know, point one times a trillion or whatever it is, which is still quite a big business. But what I the really the really clear piece of advice there is like, when you're looking at the risk associated with your business, to ask yourself how much of that risk you can control, right? One of the things that we said is it'll be really nice if clean electricity was everywhere and free, or everywhere in one cent, right, or 24 hours a day or all these sorts of things, but I can't control that. So if my process isn't clean or isn't cheaper, unless clean electricity gets to one cent and 24 hours a day, then that's a really really big risk term in your expected value calculation. And if your process can avoid that risk term, then you're much more likely to have an impact.

Cody Finke:

And there's, you know, lots of besides cost of electricity and that sort of thing. There's there's lots of potential risk terms like, basically, do I need another technology to scale before I can scale my technology and, if so, why am I not working on that other technology? That's like you find that you have to work on another technology and you don't know how to and you should probably change. You should probably pivot right. You probably change to a different technology because just the you have to compound these risk factors. Things are really bad. And I would say the same thing with, like, if your business involves like, well, if we had a, you know, $150 per ton or $200 per ton, or even $100 per ton carbon tax, then the business could be great. It was like, well, how long are we going to have that, or when are we going to have that? These things are, you know, quite risky and unpredictable. So the chances of your business actually making an impact go down if it requires that.

Silas Mahner:

Yeah, that's something I was just arguing with somebody on LinkedIn today about, so I think that's fascinating to bring it up the same day. But what one thing I'm curious about is advice to especially people who are more oriented towards science and technology. What is your advice on choosing either a co-founder or founding team to help you kind of go on that, or those early days?

Cody Finke:

Yeah. So for me, my co-founder, hugo he's amazing, right. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to work with him, and so I think I don't think I could have done it alone. I just don't think I have the skills. So my advice would be, like, try to find a co-founder who A has complementary skills to you.

Cody Finke:

So if you're like me and you have a really strong background in the scientists, like sciences, but maybe you're a little scattered, like, try to find someone like Hugo who is incredibly organized, is more of an engineer than a scientist. These are trying to have less redundant skills, or fewer redundant skills is like a great thing for a co-founding team, I think, because it just means like it just makes the roles a lot clearer and then you don't really butt heads. And then the second thing is like, try to work with someone who you like Like Hugo is one of my best friends and that's huge. The strength of our relationship carries us through like times when we disagree, and there will be times when you disagree or anything like that, and so it's just like it's amazing to like work with someone you love. You know it's just like it's I. Yeah, I would recommend that.

Silas Mahner:

Okay, amazing. And then what other advice? Obviously you talked about how the funding process went, but what would your biggest piece of advice to the founders be during the fundraising process, especially at the early stage, and maybe you have particular advice throughout how to go about that, whether that's through grants or VC?

Cody Finke:

Yeah, so I would be open to all kinds of funding.

Cody Finke:

It's going to take a lot of funding to get anywhere.

Cody Finke:

So, yeah, I think that the time to go for venture capital money is when you like look at this and be like, okay, I think that I have something like a business here, right, if you just have, like I have a really interesting lab result, like probably too early for venture capital, it's like okay, I think I know a way I can make money off of this or solve the problem that I want to solve.

Cody Finke:

Like that would be the time to go for VC. And my advice would be like be really confident, like do a lot of work ahead of time to understand the economics of your process, right, dig really deep into techno economics and try to figure out you know what the economics of your process would look at, scale and use really and try to use really, really reasonable assumptions, because the more you can do that, the more confident venture capital lists will have that they will make money right. And they need to make money or else they won't give you money because they could give someone else money where they will make money right. So that's, yeah, doing a lot more work than you think you need to on your techno economics is, I think, really helps us.

Silas Mahner:

And then one I guess this would be more like a self reflection type of question is what would you say if you think you can put your finger on it would be the most important factor that has helped you succeed in kind of building this company?

Cody Finke:

You know, I would actually point to like an unrelenting attitude of if it doesn't work in today's economic assumptions, then the process is not good enough. Right, because that has allowed us to keep our expected values high, because we're not multiplying risks that we can't control together, and that is so. And it also has caused us to like pivot many, many, many, many times. Or as, like we realized, oh, like, this process is great, except electricity has to be 24 hours a day and clean in 0.1 cents per kilowatt hour. Like, oh, this is great, but we need a $50 per ton carbon tax. Or, oh, this is great, but we just need to ship rock from Hawaii all over the world.

Cody Finke:

You think there's all of these things. They're like, ah, it's not actually great. So, and then we've been okay. Well, we need to keep thinking, and I think that there are routes to solve a lot of these problems. But a lot of folks will either maybe fool themselves a little bit with, with assumptions which is really easy to do because you know you love, you love what you're doing, you want to do it or they will, you know, assume that, you know, assume things that are really risky.

Silas Mahner:

So, yeah, very good. Well, this has been awesome. The last question I have is how did you come up with the name Brimstone, and was that the original name, or did it get changed along the way?

Cody Finke:

Yeah, brimstone is the one thing in the company that has not pivoted. I guess we used to be called Brimstone Energy and we dropped the energy, so it's been the same way. So how that started is we started actually as a co-producing hydrogen, clean hydrogen and sulfuric acid for the fertilizer industry.

Silas Mahner:

Okay.

Cody Finke:

And we did that from sulfur and Brimstone is an archaic name for sulfur, which is like. As a chemist, I was like, oh, that's kind of fun. And then since then we've been asked many, many times if we are very religious and not I never thought of that.

Silas Mahner:

Yeah, but I just think it's a great name, but I'm just curious to do a lot of other chemists give you like, give you flak or like hey, that doesn't make any sense now, based on what you're doing.

Cody Finke:

No they don't, I appreciate, because we don't use sulfur anymore.

Silas Mahner:

Very nice. Well, it's a cool name and a great marketing as well, so it's been a pleasure to have you on. You know what's your call the action for people. Where can they reach you?

Cody Finke:

Yeah, so reach out on our website We've got a form there or on LinkedIn and, like, the biggest thing that we're looking for is we need to you know really strong, motivated, hands-on chemical engineers. Right, we are, we are building a big facility and we need a lot of folks. So, if you're a chemical engineer, please, please, please, reach out, because we'd love, we would love to talk about working together and then your policymaker, of course, advanced market commitments.

Silas Mahner:

Let's change it, let's take it happen. Man, this has been great. I'm really excited to see where you guys go Hopefully to the moon. So this is going to be great. Can't wait to see.

Cody Finke:

Well, thanks, alex, I really appreciate that.

Innovating Cement for Climate Change
From Grad School to Entrepreneurship
Inventing Carbon Negative Cement
Scaling Cement Production and Funding Process
Retrofitting Cement Plants and Silicate Rocks
Founders' Advice on Pivoting and Risks
Recruiting Chemical Engineers for Facility Construction