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Cody Finke ’08 

Co-Founder of Brimstone Energy

Hugo Leandi (left) and Cody Finke '08 (right), Co-Founders of Brimstone Energy

Hugo Leandi (left) and Cody Finke (right), Co-Founders of Brimstone Energy

Have you ever considered that every single thing we create, build, or use has some type of environmental impact? Take cement for example: cement is responsible for approximately 5.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, or nearly 8% of CO2 emissions. Recognizing this problem, alumnus Cody Finke ’08, came up with the idea to produce carbon-neutral cement while completing his PhD in Environmental Science & Engineering at California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Originally, Cody joined Caltech with the goal of developing an affordable wastewater treatment technology for low-income countries. After three years and a techno-economic analysis, he realized that technology was a long way from reaching this goal and wanted to work on something that would have a more certain impact because of more favorable techno-economics. With this in mind, he started working on a few processes and settled on carbon-neutral cement. After developing the initial process, Cody partnered with a staff engineer at Caltech named Hugo Leandri and was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, which provided the breakthrough funding to research the idea. 

Eventually, they raised enough money from Breakthrough Energy Ventures (Bill Gates’ climate focused investment firm), DCVC and the Collaborative Fund to found Brimstone Energy, their venture-backed R&D company located in the Bay Area.

Two years later, Brimstone Energy has developed a process capable of producing carbon-neutral cement at a lower cost and with supplementary cementitious materials. Their company continues working towards their mission of eliminating industrial greenhouse gas emissions by developing technologies to help industries transition faster to net-zero. Cody explains:

Cement is interesting for a chemist because 40% of CO2 emissions come from energy production (burning a fossil fuel) and 60% of emissions come from the chemistry of making cement (in the process the rock limestone, CaCO3 is decomposed into CaO and CO2). So with the current process, even if clean energy were to be used, 60% of the CO2 emissions would remain. What we did is figure out a way to use a different rock as the source of CaO which does not contain CO2. These rocks also contain magnesium which, when the CaO is liberated, will start to rapidly sequester CO2 from the air. Therefore, even if dirty energy is used to make the cement the process can be carbon neutral. If clean energy is used, the process is highly carbon negative.

Although creating positive environmental processes is their focus, Brimstone Energy also puts a strong emphasis on equity within the company. They focus on finding candidates that look like the world we live in, not just PhD students at Caltech. This means they actively recruit BIPOC and other underrepresented individuals. Additionally, they ensure that everyone who works for Brimstone is a partial owner of the company so when the company does well, so do all of their employees. 

Companies like Brimstone Energy are truly helping to shape the future, but every individual is also capable of making a difference. When asked how people can make an impact on an everyday basis Cody said, “I live in a 450 sq ft house, ride my bicycle to work, and primarily eat vegetarian — but I also enjoy traveling long distances to the mountains, living in my parents’ much larger home for long amounts of time, and taking airplanes. It is very difficult to make small changes when the current system is set up to burn fossil fuels and consume resources to increase comfort and wealth. Therefore, to be lasting, these changes need to be systemic; we need to find ways to change how our energy and infrastructure systems operate, so that environmental goals are aligned with environmental stewardship.”

“This technology is a recipe to replace the current way cement is produced at a global scale.” Cody Finke, Co-Founder of Brimstone Energy