Calstar Products’ Green Take on Bricks


With apologies to Gertrude Stein, a brick is a brick is a brick, right? Well maybe not anymore according to CalStar Products.

CalStar, based in Newark, CA is a sustainable building products startup with a new, green approach to brick-making that uses fly ash, a coal by-product, instead of clay.

Production of traditional clay brick gobbles energy while releasing a lot of CO2, says Julie Rapoport, CalStar’s vice president of product management.

She explains that the fly ash brick – or aptly, FAB – does not use clay and it’s not fired. For a normal clay brick, clay is taken from the ground, put into a kiln and fired at 2000 degrees F for one to four days. Making FABs requires 85 percent less energy and produces 85 percent less carbon-dioxide emissions than standard kiln-fired bricks, she says.

CalStar uses advanced technology to make architectural facing bricks and durable pavers for the green building market. Its FAB meets or exceeds the same standards of equivalent masonry products, is available in modular and utility sizes, and comes in eight colors, the company says.

It opened its first FAB manufacturing plant in Racine, WI in January. The plant makes the architectural bricks and pavers using fly ash sourced from the nearby electric utility We Energies’ Oak Creek Power Plant. At peak production it could turn out at least 40 million bricks a year.

Coal-fired generation is responsible for about 50 percent of the power supplied to the electricity grid, CalStar says, and U.S. electric utilities generate 130 million tons of CCP’s (coal combustion products) every year. Fly ash has been used as a substitute and complement for Ordinary Portland Cement for decades; “it is a ubiquitous material in modern construction and design,” the company continues. “When used in building materials, fly ash is bound safely within a solid matrix. The EPA’s C2P2 (Coal Combustion Products Partnership) program has encouraged fly ash use to reduce CO2 emissions and reduce landfill burdens since the early 1990s.”

CalStar’s first project is planned for Tallahassee, FL at a K2 Urban development called Evening Rose. In this project, its modular face brick are being installed on two small commercial projects.

As you read this, CalStar is exhibiting its face brick and pavers  at the Innovation Pipeline at West Coast Green in San Francisco (September 30 – October 2).

Wherever coal is used to produce energy, there’s fly ash. Because that reality won’t change anytime soon, why not recycle it into something useful and environmentally sound?

One step at a time, another brick in the wall.

writer, editor, reader and general good (ok mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by

7 responses

  1. I live in Racine and one question that never got answered about these bricks is whether or not they will leech toxins over time. The fly ash that goes in to making them has toxins, that means those toxins are in the bricks. Will those toxins come out with weathering? What happens years from now when some of the buildings constructed from those bricks come down; will the bricks have to be treated as toxic waste? Will they get landfilled and leech toxins? Can they be recycled? I’m glad it doesn’t take as much energy to produce these bricks, but I want assurances that WE Energies isn’t just making their toxic fly ash someone elses problem by upcycling it into toxic bricks. CalStar of course says this isn’t an issue, but I’m looking for info from a more objective source. Thank you.

    1. Rebecca,

      We work with a lot of manufacturers that use fly ash in construction products, and none of them have ever found evidence of leeching. The EPA has recommended this type of use as one of the safest ways to handle fly ash. This isn’t sequestration, where destroying the brick will release all its components; once it’s in the brick (or concrete, or other material), it’s part of it permanently.

      As for recycling, there’s a long history of reusing bricks, either reusing serviceable bricks to create a “worn masonry” effect, or crushing unusable bricks to use as aggregate or filler.

  2. Raw fly ash is hazardous and is a problem. Fly ash products can be dangerous if they are not properly manufactured.

    Fly ash is being used safely in two types of brick:

    Firstly, fired bricks in which a small portion (less than 20%) of clay is replaced with fly ash. These are fired and are stable to leaching because fly ash components are contained within clay-derived glassy phases. Also, 100% fired fly ash bricks have been produced, and these appear to be similar in performance and safety to fired clay bricks.

    Secondly, fly ash-lime-gypsum-cement bricks, which typically contain less than 40% fly ash and are autoclaved. In these, the lime/cement reacts with fly ash components, immobilizing them in silicate phases and preventing leaching of toxic components.

    Calstar’s fly ash bricks are neither fired nor reacted with lime/cement. And, the fly ash they are produced from is known to leach toxic metals and is known to have poisoned ground water. Calstar knows this – see the report at

    Also, Calstar’s own tests show that their bricks leach a whole range of toxics in a matter of a few hours on contact with water. These toxics are soluble and can form a poisonous coating on the bricks, generate toxic dusts/particles, and can be disperse by incidental contact and by water transfer.

    The problem is Calstar’s fly ash bricks. They are made from a hazardous raw material by a process which is known to produce a sub-standard and hazardous product.

  3. The EPA has suspended the Coal Combustion Products Partnership (C2P2) – a coal ash reuse promotion program, while the program “is being re-evaluated”.

    Also, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging her agency to rethink the full range of risks in putting highly toxic coal combustion wastes into an array of consumer, agricultural and commercial products – which is the object of the suspended C2P2.

    More proof of the toxicity of fly ash and the danger of products like Calstar’s fly ash bricks.

  4. The defection of top management from Calstar continues.

    Jim Greer, the VP of Finance has left Calstar.

    This follows the departure of the Director of Research, the CEO, and the Director of Marketing.

    More evidence that Calstar is a Greenwash

  5. The Inspector General has ordered the EPA to Assess the Dangers of Coal Ash Products.

    The directive is at:

    This follows the suspension last year of The EPA-industry sponsored Coal Combustion Products Partnership, which was formed to promote the use of fly ash.

    The Inspector General states that “the EPA Had Incomplete Risk Information on Coal Ash”

    The OIG also states that “the agency (EPA) promoted the use of coal ash products — bound into products such as wallboard, concrete, roofing materials and bricks — with incomplete information about potential risks to people’s health and the environment”.”

    Coal ash products like Calstar’s fly ash bricks.

  6. 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 the new CEO as a last resort to consolidate the company, shake up management and R&D, and salvage what remains.

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