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Incentive-based policy for carbon capture and sequestration in building materials

Sunnyvale should create an incentive-based approach to encouraging construction using building materials that sequester carbon.

Photo of Jordan Daniels
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Written by

Jordan Daniels, DNV GL

How are you connected to Sunnyvale?

  • I work in Sunnyvale.
  • I visit Sunnyvale regularly.

What type of applicant are you?

  • Community member

Stage of Development.

  • Early concept or idea (<few months of work)

What problem are you aiming to solve? (100 words)

The problem is excessive carbon in our atmosphere that causes global warming.

Tell us more about your climate strategy or solution (500 words)

By reducing carbon emissions associated with manufacturing building materials that have high embodied energy, less carbon will accumulate in the atmosphere. One of the building materials with the highest embodied energy (largest carbon footprint) is cement, which is used in concrete for structural, paving, and hardscape applications, as well as finishes like plaster, stucco, and tile. Technologies exist for manufacturing cement using carbon sequestered from power plant emissions, thus producing a "low-CO2" concrete product. One local company developing this technology is Blue Planet (, which captures CO2 from the stacks at the Moss Landing Power Plant and uses it to produce carbonate (CO3) to manufacture cement. Local concrete distributor Central Concrete offers a low-CO2 concrete product, as well ( A building material that is perhaps even better at sequestering carbon than concrete is wood. Wood that is sustainably harvested (i.e. selectively harvesting trees, rather than clear-cutting, and replanting them in greater numbers - reference wood that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council has great potential. As trees grow, they convert CO2 to solid biomass, which can be kept as a solid indefinitely by incorporating wood in the built environment. In addition to conventional framing techniques, application of mass timber technologies integrates even more wood in buildings, while providing structural integrity commensurate with steel and concrete and also high fire resistance. A recent Autodesk study provides more detail: Selecting FSC-certified wood and using mass timber construction techniques are viable alternatives to high-carbon steel and concrete. So resources and options exist - developers just need an incentive to use them.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (100 words)

In developing a financial pro forma for new construction projects, developers are driven to provide attractive buildings at least cost and largest ROI. Sunnyvale can appeal to developers by offering incentives in return for incorporating carbon sequestering building materials in new buildings. Bold incentives have the potential to motivate most, if not all, new projects to dramatically reduce their respective carbon footprints and potentially sequester more carbon than they produce.

Explain how your idea would be implemented in Sunnyvale (700 words)

The key is to offer attractive incentives for developers. Good ideas may come from soliciting input from developers directly: what incentives would be attractive enough to use carbon sequestering concrete, FSC wood, or mass timber? Others ideas may come by tapping the creative potential of Sunnyvale staff though facilitated charrette meetings, surveys, interviews, or other brainstorming sessions: is there flexibility in the current limitations on new projects, such as building heights, setbacks, tax rates, etc.? For limits that cannot be relaxed, can more aggressive limitations be imposed on conventional buildings, thus encouraging projects that meet carbon sequestration goals? Another important factor is creating a solid program that clearly describes the approach to selecting building materials and documenting carbon that will be sequestered in order for a project to qualify for a given incentive. Orienting the program around existing legislation will be important to avoid duplicating effort. For instance, projects that require CEQA compliance are already required to identify carbon mitigation measures. Similarly, Sunnyvale's own green building ordinance already requires developers to pay close attention to material selection to meet the minimum requirements of LEED certification. Leveraging existing legislation to define the pathway to selecting building materials and documenting increased carbon sequestration will be important.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (250 words)

As cited in the Autodesk study referenced above, a 20-story building could sequester 3,150 tons of carbon by using mass timber. If the same building used low-CO2 concrete (or carbon sequestering concrete) for the foundation, paving and hardscapes, there is the potential that the net embodied energy (carbon footprint) of the building could be orders of magnitude less than conventional buildings. The result would be substantially less carbon emitted from construction projects in Sunnyvale without limiting growth.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of people affected. (250 words)

This concept is in the early stage of development, so precise numbers are not available yet. However, depending on the incentive and program structure, it is conceivable that every new construction project in Sunnyvale could have a carbon footprint approximately 25% less than conventional buildings.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (500 words)

Since this project is in the early stages of development, precise analysis of the feasibility is yet to be done. However, it is expected city staff time would be needed to create a program, as guided by a consultant. Round figures for cost would be $150k - $300k.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (300 words)

A logical next step would be to conduct a feasibility study to determine whether this concept has merit. This would involve a market study of concrete, wood and other carbon-sequestering products. It would also involve studying ways mass timber could be incorporated in building design and construction practices in Sunnyvale. This would entail researching precedent and acceptability of mass timber in construction codes. If no major obstacles are discovered, the next step would be to study incentives to determine what incentives would be feasible to the City of Sunnyvale while also appeal to developers. If appealing incentives are identified, the next step would be to create and implement a program as described above.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with our partners?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you came up with your idea.

Various life projects in my past have contributed to this idea. These include organizing a panel discussion of carbon sequestration options for the US Green Building Council, NCC, Monterey Bay Branch in 2012. I also studied the embodied energy of wood building materials through a project in which wood was salvaged through deconstruction so that it could be reused in a new building. I made a documentary film about that project:

Evaluation results

2 evaluations so far

1. From a range of 1-5, how interested/compelled are you to bring this idea into your own life or into the city?

1 - Not Interested - 0%

2 - 0%

3 - 0%

4 - 0%

5 - Very interested - 100%

2. From a range of 1-5, does this idea provide benefits aside from reducing carbon emissions?

1 - Low co-benefits - 0%

2 - 0%

3 - 0%

4 - 0%

5 - High co-benefits - 100%

3. From a scale of 1-5, what do you feel is the feasibility of this idea to work well in Sunnyvale?

1 - Not feasible - 0%

2 - 0%

3 - 0%

4 - 100%

5 - Very feasible - 0%

4. From a range of 1-5, what is your hunch about how much this idea will cost the Sunnyvale community to implement properly?

1 - High cost to the community - 0%

2 - 0%

3 - 0%

4 - 100%

5 - Low cost to the community - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of DeletedUser


Hi Jordan  - thanks for submitting this idea. I'd be curious to learn more about the materials that we're building with that are on the other side of the spectrum of cement. Don't forget to click "Publish" on your idea as well so that others in the community can see it and give you feedback.

Photo of Jérémie Gluckman-Picard

Jordan Daniels I'm wondering if there are any examples of cities that have partnered with similar carbon-sequestering concrete companies to reduce the environmental impact of new construction. It would be super cool to add elements of a case study and pictures to bring your submission to life.

Photo of Jordan Daniels

Hi Scott, thanks for your question. I updated my concept with some answers to your question, but in summary: cement that uses captured CO2 in the manufacturing process, FSC-certified wood, and design using mass timber. I focused on materials used for framing buildings, rather than materials for facades and interiors, although there is also potential to select materials for facades and interiors that also sequester carbon.

Photo of Jordan Daniels

Hi Jeremie, thanks for your suggestion. I will keep an eye out for examples of cities that have partnered with carbon-sequestering concrete companies and add them to my concept. I like your idea about adding elements of a case study and pictures to bring my submission to life - I will work on that as time permits.