California firm opens new “green” brick factory in Caledonia

New facility produces bricks with fly ash from We Energies’ Oak Creek power plant

Just before Christmas, the first new brick factory to open in Wisconsin in more than 50 years fired up its production line for the first time.

CalStar Products is now producing residential and commercial facing bricks, as well as paving bricks, in its 63,000-square-foot facility in Caledonia. The company began moving into the new facility last August, and is now preparing for full-scale production.

CalStar’s bricks are the only bricks in the world produced from fly ash, a by-product of the coal power generation process. The company sources its fly ash from the nearby Wisconsin Energy Corp. coal plant in Oak Creek.

Traditional bricks are made from clay and require as much as four days of baking time at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. CalStar’s bricks are “cooked” at less than 200 degrees for 24 hours, said Thomas Pounds, chief operating officer.

While CalStar’s bricks are “green” they function the same as other conventional bricks.

“These can be used in any project that would take masonry,” Pounds said. “Our initial target is the commercial architectural segment – all varieties of commercial construction including multi-family, residential, office, retail and others.”

The company’s bricks will be sold at the same prices as traditional bricks, Pounds said, which should help make their introduction to the market easier.

“We’re going to market at price parity,” he said. “There are lots of indicators that people are interested and excited about green products but they’re less excited about paying a premium for it.”

CalStar Products is headquartered in Newark, Calif., in Silicon Valley.

“We have a collection of entrepreneurs who are visionary and see big challenges and big problems in different ways and are willing to take risks,” Pounds said. “We have investors who are like-minded and a terrific pool of technical resources from universities and the tech scene.”

CalStar Products has been funded by the venture capital firms Foundation Capital and Enertech Capital.

On Friday, CalStar received $2.4 million in Wisconsin tax credits in recognition of its energy-reducing production techniques.

The company decided to build its first production facility in Caledonia because of a strong pitch from We Energies, which is selling its fly ash to CalStar.

“Wispark (LLC, the real estate arm of Wisconsin Energy Corp.) owns this building and we’re leasing from them,” Pounds said. “In August when we moved in, it was bare bones. In about 20 weeks, we got the whole plant up and in place with all the equipment moved in.”

CalStar currently has about 15 employees in Caledonia. It will have about 35 employees by the time it reaches full capacity in the next two or three years.

The Caledonia plant will be one of about six production facilities CalStar plans throughout the Midwest, Pounds said.

“We expect to build additional plants down the Mississippi Valley and East Coast over the next couple years,” he said. “We will get this plant launched and running toward capacity first.”

Click here or on the image below for a video interview with Pounds.


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