This article is part of Upstart, a series on young companies using new science and technology.
Last year, Starbucks opened a sustainable built-in drive-through cafe in Abbotsford, British Columbia, about an hour’s drive southeast of Vancouver. The store was the first of its kind, built in almost six days without any construction waste, and its components – walls, floor and ceiling – were built so precisely that when assembled, they created airtight seals. The design makers say they expect to reduce the store’s carbon footprint by 30 percent, reducing heating and cooling needs.
The Starbucks store was created by Nexi Building Solutions, a Vancouver-based construction technology start-up that has become a rising star in the expanding green building industry. Nexii was founded by entrepreneur Stephen Sidwell, who is now its chief executive, in late 2018. The company reached “Unicorn” status – valued at more than $ 1 billion in 31 months – the fastest company to do so in Canadian history, according to Nexi.
Although we often do not associate climate change with buildings and construction, they are responsible for about 40 percent of global energy-related carbon emissions, according to the United Nations. About 30 percent of these emissions come from building operations (primarily heating, cooling and lighting) and another 11 percent are “carbon” or carbon emissions during the construction process.
Mr. Sidwell formed Nexi after being introduced to Ben and Michael Dombowski, both inventors and construction workers since the 1970s. Over the years, the brothers have been plagued by huge waste and inefficiency in the industry and, more recently, its impact on the climate.
Michael Dombowski, now vice president of building technology at Nexi, experimented for many years with various efficient construction techniques that eventually became Nexi’s patented building system. This includes prefabrication panels for use as part of walls, floors and roofs in a manufacturing plant and then shipped to the building site. There, a small team quickly assembles the components into the building. Nexii, using its own data as well as data from Starbucks’ store development team, found the method to be 75 percent faster than it normally takes to build these stores, said Gregor Robertson, executive vice president for strategy and partnerships. Nexi and the former mayor of Vancouver.
The building system relies on the latest technology, especially the use of 3-D modeling software, which ensures extremely accurate production.
“Building design software has advanced dramatically in recent years,” Mr. Said Robertson. “So we can use augmented reality to walk across the building on the screen and look at every little detail to make sure everything fits together very precisely.”
3-D digital plans are then sent to a manufacturing plant, where panels are made for specific specifications.
“In the past, construction companies used to make mini-models or build directly from paper plans, and they will encounter problems or errors that may arise when making them,” he said. Said Robertson. With 3-D modeling, all problems arise virtually and are resolved just before construction begins.
Michelle Michaels (who does not have a business relationship with Nexi), a leading partner in engineering and construction practice at consulting firm Deloitte, said that although prefabricated and modular construction has been around for a long time, it is now a huge trend. In engineering and construction because it allows companies to really control how they design a building, what materials they use and their ability to reduce waste. “
But the Dombowski brothers wanted to change more than just the building process: they wanted to find an alternative to traditional concrete, which is expensive and heavy and has a high carbon footprint.
For more than 150 years, cement, steel and concrete have been the primary building materials used, and in a world without climate change that is no problem, Pride n. The inauguration of Stability at Henry, Professor Pritzker, said the saint. Director of the Samuel School of Engineering and Carbon Management at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“But there is an urgent need at the moment to reduce emissions, so we either need to produce this building material separately or replace it with a material with a low carbon footprint,” he said.
Ben Dombowski, now vice president of product development for Nexi, spent 10 years creating a concrete alternative. In 2017, it introduced Nexiite, a non-toxic proprietary building material now used to make Nexii panels. The company commissioned Rob Sianchuk Consulting in British Columbia to conduct a third-party test of the panels, and its preliminary findings (which are still to be reviewed by a third party) show that the Nexiite has a potential range of 20-36 percent less carbon. Emissions When compared to Portland concrete, industry standard. And even in British Columbia, the Nexii Concrete Strength Testing from Metro Testing & Engineering has found that the Nexiite sets faster – it takes seven days to reach maximum strength instead of 28 days.
The company has little competition in North America from the modular industry of size, with many businesses claiming to use green building materials. Nexii, however, uses third-party testing to validate its green metrics and publishes the results on its website. Nadav Malin, president of BuildingGreen, an information and consulting firm focused on the green building industry in Vermont, said it was not possible to comment specifically on Nexite’s claims about Nexite, as the company would not disclose the ingredients if the company “focused on health and sustainability throughout its process. To fully live up to his claim to keep, they will certainly be at the forefront of space. Nexi’s clients include companies working to reduce or eliminate carbon emissions. . One-fifth of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies are now committed to reaching net-zero emissions, according to the nonprofit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.
Today, Nexi has 400 employees and two manufacturing plants in Canada. The company plans to grow and scale using the franchise model, in which it certifies and licenses local manufacturers across North America to make its green building panels. Plant owners will be provided with access to Nexiite as well as the systems and processes needed to create Nexii building panels. Once certified, these manufacturers can market and sell Nexii manufacturing products in their territories. Ten manufacturing plants in North America are in various stages of development, including one in Hazelton, PA, which opened in October, and another in Pittsburgh, which will open soon. Manufacturers pay a licensing fee, and a certain percentage of their revenue goes to Nexii.
The company’s biggest challenge now, Mr. Robertson said his leadership and more than 1,000 investors are scaling as fast as they like.
He acknowledged that there were risks to growing too fast. For example, Katera, a modular construction technology start-up that was founded in 2015 and raised more than $ 2 billion, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last June. One of the issues that led to the collapse of the company was that it tried to do it very quickly. Despite all the investment, Nexii is not yet profitable. (The company declined to say when it expects to reach profitability, but said it is a “key near-term priority”).
“We do scaling like a software company, but this is hardware,” said Mr. Said Robertson. “And it takes time to put the plants together, to put people in the production line and in the assembly process. We don’t want to burn too fast. But it’s also a very hungry market.”