CalStar’s Impressive Green Fly Ash Brick

CalStar Products recently introduced a fly ash brick and fly ash paver that’s been getting major attention in the industry.  The innovative fly ash products are behind the company’s attention in the Wall Street Journal and finalist nomination for the Crunchies in the Best Cleantech category.  They’re made from 40% fly ash and 60% local aggregates, together with some proprietary ingredients.

The fly ash products are not formed with Portland cement or energy-intense firing, resulting in substantial savings in carbon impact terms.

CalStar claims the bricks require 850-1250 BTUs to produce, compared to 4800-8800 BTUs for clay bricks and 1240 BTUs for concrete bricks.  The company also claims the brick’s carbon footprint is .25 pounds, compared to 1.3 pounds for clay brick and .75 pounds for concrete brick.

Naturally — would you expect anything else of a competitor — executives at the Brick Industry Association told the Wall Street Journal that they question whether the fly ash bricks will last as long as clay bricks.

The brick comes in modular and utility sizes in seven colors, while the paver is available in six colors for pedestrian and light traffic applications.  The bricks have been designed and manufactured to sell competitively with commercial clay bricks.

In terms of safety, CalStar says the fly ash is bound within a strong crystalline matrix.  Therefore, the fly ash is sealed and not expected to result in any exposures to health.

CalStar officially opens its plant in Caledonia, Wisconsin tomorrow, January 11, 2010.  The plant will produce 40 million bricks annually recycling fly ash from Wisconsin Energy Corporation.

See further Putting Green Technology into Bricks by the WSJ.

Photo credit: CalStar Products.

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  • Anonymous

    Anything to reduce the load on the environment is a good thing. Great Blog we will come back here again!!

  • Anonymous

    Some takes from visiting the Calstar booth at Greenbuild and examining their bricks.

    The fly ash bricks look very different to clay bricks – even from a distance. Up close, they have a whitish bloom which rubs off.

    Edge hardness is poor and seams are porous and friable. Dimensions and edge/face structure are variable.

    Color is variable with pigment bleed around grain structure – since the coloring is from oxide pigment additions rather than firing.

    The bricks show water beading and mortar pullback – typical of masonry impregnated with water repellents/efflorescence control agents.

    Despite the additives, you still see salt migration – as pinhole breakthroughs, bleeding/staining and salt banding around sand grains and at the mortar joints.

  • lori dennis, asid, leed ap

    Lovin’ this clean, easy to read, no BS, green blog. It’s one of the best I’ve seen.. my green builder husband and I (green interior designer) are finding so much inspiration. THanks and keep up the great green bloggin!

    • Preston

      Thanks Lori. I see you’ve done some incredible green projects yourself. Love the website. Make sure to keep in touch … hopefully we can share you and your husband’s innovation with readers here.

  • Anonymous

    Calstar’s CEO – Michael Kane has jumped ship.

    In a striking and ironic refutal of Calstar’s fly ash brick product, Kane has moved to Boral, the largest clay brick producer in the US.

    So much for Calstar’s “Green” and “Eco-friendly” fly ash bricks. Even Calstar’s own CEO did not believe Calstar’s hype and greenwashing.

    Obviously Kane sees much better better prospects at Boral. Boral is a solid company with excellent products, including clay bricks, cement block and a range of building products made with fly ash. Quite the change from Calstar’s greenwash operations.

    Damage control time for Calstar.

  • Leland Walmsley

    Rome’s Pantheon & Roman aquaducts were made with fly ash.  So to answer the WSJ’s question, “wether the fly ash bricks will last as long as clay bricks”, the answer is a resounding “yes”!  The Pantheon has been standing for 1,885 years!!! 

    • Bkwaas

      Leland – you are incorrect.

      Roman used crushed rocks such as tuff, trass and pumice – all formed by the natural consolidation of VOLCANIC ash – NOT – COAL fly ash.

      The mineralogy of volcanic as is very different to that of coal fly ash. Volcanic ash is a much better pozzolan, and typically has much lower levels heavy metals than coal fly ash. Also, volcanic ash does not have organic contaminants such as dioxins.

      There are no ancient cements made with coal fly ash – coal fly ash is a byproduct of the industrial revolution. 

      Coal fly ash use in building materials dates only to the 1920s.

      Roman cement architecture has survived partly because the Romans formulated their cements with natural pozzolans such as volcanic fly ash. It has nothing to do with coal fly ash.

      Coal fly ash does not have a significant history in the building, while volcanic ash has over 2,000 years in use.

      As for Calstar – their pavers have a reputation for poor durability – measured in years – thus their low 10 year warranty on the pavers.

  • Bkwaas

    Calstar is at it again – twisting facts, touting the virtues of coal fly ash and glossing over the many known hazards associated with their product.

    Julie Rapoport, the VP of Product complains that the (very mild) SPLP leaching test used for fly ash is too aggressive.  The SPLP test uses a solution which is weaker than lemon juice or vinegar to leach toxic metals from Calstar’s fly ash bricks.  Even under these very mild conditions, a range of toxic metals including arsenic, antimony, beryllium, cadmium, lead, manganese, mercury and nickel leach from the bricks.

    The EPA has already admitted that the SPLP test is too mild and outdated and needs to be replaced with a more aggressive test resembling real-world conditions.  Calstar is opposed to this – why – because such a test will leach even higher levels of toxic metals from Calstar’s fly ash bricks and further highlight the hazards of these bricks.

    Julie Rapoport also claims that “one could leach anything out of any material if it was subjected to severe enough conditions”.  This is smoke-and-mirrors nonsense.  The comparison here is between Calstar’s bricks which are made of fly ash, and clay bricks.  Fly ash has much higher levels of toxic metals than clay, and these toxic metals are highly mobile.  TCLP and SPLP leaching tests of clay bricks do not show any significant leaching of toxic metals like arsenic, antimony, beryllium, cadmium, lead, manganese, mercury and nickel – these same metals readily leach from Calstar’s bricks.  Simply put, clay bricks do not contain the high levels of toxic metals present in fly ash bricks, and clay bricks are far more resistant to leaching than fly ash bricks.  This simple fact is evident from Calstar refusing to compare the leaching results for their fly ash bricks with the leaching of clay bricks – Calstar knows very well how bad their bricks would look in this comparison.

    Calstar’s coal fly ash bricks and pavers are known to have problems.  They are know to have issues with shrinkage, efflorescence, leaching of toxic metals, poor mortar adhesion, spalling, flaking and erosion, all leading to several product failures.

  • Bkwaas

    Tom Pounds has been removed as CEO of Calstar.

    Mismanagement and gross incompetence have resulted in substandard products, very poor market performance, and failed revenue development. Calstar’s fly ash bricks and pavers have been dogged by safety and performance issues and have failed spectacularly in a number of field trials and residential and commercial projects.

    Rood has been brought in as a last resort to consolidate the company, shake up management and R&D and salvage what remains.

  • Bkwaas

    Calstar Products is in the process of shutting down.

    The VCs put in over $30 million into Calstar Products, and they are consolidating to reduce the burn rate while they look for buyers – in the hope they can recoup something and reduce their losses.

    More top management losses – the R&D Director – Kyle Douglas left in December.

    Mismanagement and lousy products brought it down – they could never deliver anything that lived up to the fantastic claims they made about performance and safety – and as you can imagine, news of toxicity, product failures, botched projects and product liability spread quickly in the industry.

    Pity is that there are good fly ash products (made by other companies) out there. But Calstar, by making lousy, substandard products, has given fly ash a bad name and tarnished the reputation of the industry.

  • Bkwaas

    The exodus of management from Calstar Products continues.

    Amitabha Kumar, the VP of R&D has left.

    This follows the departure of the Director of R&D, Kyle Douglas.

    This also follows the removal of the CEO, Tom Pounds.

  • Bkwaas

    Here are eye-opening examples of Calstar’s sustainability claims – taken directly from Calstar Product’s website.

    Latest Brick Project

    Milwaukee Scholars School

    Energy saved: 255 million BTU

    CO2 avoided: 20 tons

    Landfill avoided: 40 tons
    Latest Paver Project

    Main Street Plaza

    Energy saved: 4 million BTU

    CO2 avoided: 3 tons

    Landfill avoided: 8.5 tons
    So, in the case of Calstar’s pavers, 1 ton of landfill avoided (ie. fly ash) equals 0.47 million BTUs avoided.
    But miraculously, in the case of bricks, the figure is over ten-fold higher – 6.4 million BTUs per ton of landfill avoided.
    “Inventive Marketing”?
    Or botched reports, like Calstar’s (since corrected, after I pointed
    it out) safety document that claimed the non-existent elements “Va” and


  • bkwaas

    Calstar Products is operating at a large loss and is downsizing further.

    Total staffing has been reduced by 70%, and the production workforce is at 25% of capacity.

    In the last three years, Calstar has sold only 255,000 bricks and 120,000 pavers.

    Total annual production is below 100,000 units – well below the plant capacity of 10 million units.

    Revenue is below $ 0.4 million per year – well below the burn rate of $ 2.6 million per year.

    The CEO – Tom Pounds was removed in December.
    The R&D Director – Kyle Douglas left in December.
    The VP of R&D – Amitabh Kumar left in March.

    • Green Arrow

      Hey moron, what’s up? Still collecting unemployment? I’m sure you’ve seen, your tormentor – CalStar – is still thriving. But you know, I really miss your brain farts. They’re windows into your butt, your brains’ home. Can we have some please? So entertaining!

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