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‘Green’ concrete, sentient lights, robotic parking among latest innova

December 31, 2014

Delegates attending this year’s ICSC RetailGreen Conference in Phoenix in December encountered some very concrete proposals — literally. Oddly, the creation of one of the most important building products of modern society — cement — is also a major cause of carbon dioxide pollution. About 5 percent of all CO2 in the air is emitted in the cement manufacturing process.

CarbonCure Technologies, a small company in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has taken a look at the problem and has come up with a solution so utilitarian it is already being introduced into the cement manufacturing industry. Basically, what happens in cement production is that CO2 is removed from the original mineral source, but CarbonCure’s answer is to sequester the gas and reintroduce it back into the finished concrete.

“Concrete is one of the few things in the world that converts CO2 into something else,” explains Christie Gamble, CarbonCure’s director of sustainability. “The only effect on the concrete is it improves the strength of it. We call it carbon upcycling and the process is being installed in cement manufacturing plants across North America.”

This was just one of several practical solutions to an array of problems aired at the conference, held this year in Phoenix December 2–3. In particular, there was a strong undercurrent of practicality in a session called “Innovation 2014: The Best Ideas You Haven’t Heard of Yet.”

In previous years, this “Innovation” session introduced new concepts into the marketplace that were so cutting-edge you often wondered if there would be a placement for the product before the year 2020. This year, the concepts are still unusual, but at the same time useful enough that they are already making a mark — you just weren’t aware of it. One example is automatic or robotic parking, which solves the problem of massive parking needs in tight spaces. Three or four different systems have already been introduced into the marketplace, each operating similarly. A driver pulls onto a platform that is part of large conveyor system that will lift or slide the vacant car into a set place.

Besides saving on the cost of real estate, robotic parking removes about 80 percent of the pollutants of a standard garage, reports Wes Guckert, CEO of the Traffic Group Inc., Baltimore.

Scott Harmon, vice president of sustainability and business development at Enlightened Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif., introduced the smallest innovation, a node or sensor that is attached to a lighting fixture. This is not a standalone sensor; there’s one in all the buildings fixtures and together they create a wireless network that can ascertain light, temperature, occupancy usage and other energy data, while at the same time controlling light usage.

“There is a 60 percent to 80 percent energy savings in every building in which we deploy the network,” said Harmon. The company is already working with Fortune 1,000 companies, and its revenue has gone from zero to $100 million in four years.