From glass to concrete, CT company offers construction industry environmentally conscious cement alternative

September 4, 2023
Louis Grasso (left) and T.J. Oneglia hold jars representing the different stages in the process of creating Pozzotive, a cement-replacement material made of recycled glass. The company cleans, sorts and then breaks down recycled glass into a white powder (shown on the far right), which can be used to make concrete.

A Connecticut manufacturer is hoping to help municipalities and contractors reach their clean energy goals through an innovative approach to making construction materials.

Urban Mining CT has developed a concrete additive made of recycled glass.

The company — based out of its Beacon Falls waste-gloss processing facility — breaks down, cleans and then transforms glass into a product called Pozzotive, which can be added to concrete mix in place of other compounds like cement, which is more costly, both environmentally and economically.

The added benefit of Urban Mining’s business model is that it recycles glass — an increasing challenge for municipal recycling programs nationwide due to increasing transportation and processing costs, contamination issues and limited end markets, according to Waste Dive, an industry trade publication.

Urban Mining obtains its recycled glass from material recovery facilities across the state.

While relatively new to the market, the company’s product is gaining traction. Pozzotive recently won a “Innovative Product Award” from the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, and has been used in some high-profile construction projects, including JPMorgan Chase’s new global headquarters in New York City, and ESPN’s Digital Center 2 in Bristol.

Torrington-based construction and general contracting firm O&G Industries has used Pozzotive in several of its Connecticut projects, too.

O&G also partnered with Pozzotive inventor Louis Grasso to build Urban Mining CT’s Beacon Falls manufacturing facility.

“Cement production is the second-largest producer of greenhouse gasses in the world, it’s an extremely energy-intensive process,” said T.J. Oneglia, vice president of construction materials at O&G Industries. “So, by reducing the amount of cement that goes into concrete, we can lower the carbon footprint of concrete.”

The product and company

Grasso, 60, and his uncle and business partner Patrick Grasso, 70, invented Pozzotive in 2001. They received their first patent for the product in 2009.

Pozzotive is a ground-glass type of pozzolan, a term for the family of compounds added to concrete for various purposes. Louis Grasso said Pozzotive creates stronger, longer-lasting concrete while reducing carbon dioxide emissions generated in the production of cement — the gray powder that goes into concrete — on an almost ton-for-ton basis.

Cement essentially acts as the glue to make concrete; but Pozzotive can replace up to 50% of the concrete mix at a lower environmental cost, Grasso said.

Using Pozzotive to replace cement in concrete is five times more impactful in reducing global CO2 emissions than repurposing the glass back into bottles or fiberglass, Grasso said.

“By directly replacing the cement in a yard of concrete with something that has only a 5% carbon footprint of the cement it’s replacing, creates a tremendous benefit,” Grasso said.

Grasso said the magic in making Pozzotive is the cleaning process. Urban Mining uses patented technology that separates glass from non-glass materials, and then cleans it to beyond the industry standard using a “low-embodied carbon process.”

Finally, it mills the glass into a fine powder, getting it to 99.7% purity, Grasso said.

Urban Mining CT is owned by New York-based holding company Urban Mining Industries and members of the Oneglia family, who are the founders of O&G Industries. They formed a partnership to build the multimillion-dollar Beacon Falls facility, which became operational in 2021.

Since then, Urban Mining CT has grown to 10 full-time employees.

“As a concrete producer we end up using a lot of pozzolans, … and most of the pozzolans we’ve used in the past were derived from fly ash from coal-burning power plants,” T.J. Oneglia said. “Over time, as the coal-burning power plants started to shut down, the availability of fly ash became scarcer and scarcer.”

Fly ash is still available to concrete producers, but it carries a premium cost. That led O&G Industries to search for an alternative and eventually connect with Grasso to start their business venture.

Company officials declined to disclose annual revenues, but said they’ve sold 10,500 tons of Pozzotive in 2023 through July, and anticipate sales to exceed 18,000 tons for the year. That equates to more than 72 million glass bottles recycled.

The company has a 28,000-ton sales target for 2024.

T.J. Oneglia, 49, said the product is cost-neutral for contractors, meaning it doesn’t cost more to use Pozzotive than another pozzolan.

Local impact

Urban Mining has another revenue stream through supply agreements with material recovery facilities, which separate paper, plastic and glass after they are recycled by residents and businesses.

Recovery facilities pay Urban Mining to take their sorted glass, which the company then cleans and turns into Pozzotive. Urban Mining sells Pozzotive directly to concrete companies and developers for use in their projects in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and even as far as Washington, D.C.

Grasso said recovery facility glass in the Northeast usually doesn’t end up being recycled the way people might think. In fact, glass from municipal recycling facilities is often used as landfill cover.

By turning glass into a concrete additive, tons of glass bottles, jars and other recyclable materials avoid regional landfills annually.

Recovery facilities that collect recycling in Berlin, Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Willimantic and other cities and towns across Connecticut contract with Urban Mining for glass processing, and Oneglia said the company hopes to continue to grow both in the state and region.

Grasso said Urban Mining has considered replicating its manufacturing facility and recycling business model in the Boston metropolitan area, New York City and Washington, D.C.

“We’re hoping to get a plant in both D.C., and Boston sometime in the future,” Oneglia said.

In addition to new markets, Grasso said Urban Mining is currently exploring other uses for Pozzotive. The company has already done some field tests using it in paints and coatings.

“It solves the problem of what to do with municipal recovery facility glass, otherwise this glass would end up in landfills — never biodegrading and taking up valuable space,” Grasso said.

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