CleanBoard: Recycled drywall from a solar factory

Can drywall be carbon neutral? Start-up CleanBoard plans to use a solar-powered factory to make wall board from entirely recycled materials.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
2 min read

CleanBoard has a novel idea to "green" your home: use carbon-neutral drywall that's produced in a solar-powered factory and made from the residue of coal-fired power plants.

The self-funded company, founded less than a year ago, this week started talking publicly about its CleanBoard product, which is now available. The company plans to announce funding this quarter.

The money, which will include venture capital and debt financing, will be used to open a factory in California capable of turning out its recycled drywall by year's end, CEO and founder Rod MacGregor announced Thursday.

Click on the image to see photos from November's GreenBuild Expo, where recycled building materials were featured. Martin LaMonica/CNET News

Getting green-building certification, called LEED for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, has become much more commonplace, particularly for commercial buildings. Having recycled content in the building materials is one way that architects can rack up LEED credits, or points.

MacGregor said that CleanBoard can give builders eight LEED points because it's made almost entirely of recycled gypsum--what nearly all drywall is made of now.

The sources for the gypsum will be coal-fired power plants and unused wall board from construction jobs. Scrubbers in coal plants convert sulfur dioxide emissions from burning coal into calcium sulfate, or gypsum. Typically, gypsum for drywall is mined.

The paper covering on the CleanBoard is 100 percent recycled. Right now, the company is getting its gypsum from China but hopes to source some material in the U.S. to lower the embedded energy in the product, MacGregor said.

Lowering the amount of energy that goes into a product will give it more LEED points when the certification is updated, he said. More immediately, it lowers the cost of making drywall, which is one of the more polluting industries.

"Half the cost of making a sheet of drywall is energy-related," he said. "And drywall manufacturers will be impacted directly by carbon regulations."

MacGregor is coy about the solar technology he intends to employ at a planned plant in the Mojave Desert. The general idea is to use the sun's heat to run industrial processes. Concentrating-solar-thermal power plants also use the sun's heat but convert it to electricity.

Until its own operation is up and running, San Francisco-based CleanBoard is doing limited manufacturing at another site and is purchasing carbon offsets to help even out the pollution created during manufacturing.

Although green-building products are becoming more widely used--November's GreenBuild industry conference in Boston drew close to 30,000 people--there are fewer green-material technology start-ups than say in the solar or biofuel fields.

Serious Materials makes EcoRock, which is drywall made with 80 percent recycled material but no gypsum. At the GreenBuild conference in November, Serious Materials CEO Kevin Surace said the company is seeing strong demand for the product, which will be available in parts of the U.S. later this quarter.