Company picks Holyoke for clean-tech cement plant

Sublime Systems has signed a lease-to-buy agreement for this property on Water Street in Holyoke, where it proposes to build a clean-tech cement manufacturing plant. The buildings on site have since been razed.

Sublime Systems has signed a lease-to-buy agreement for this property on Water Street in Holyoke, where it proposes to build a clean-tech cement manufacturing plant. The buildings on site have since been razed. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Sublime Systems plans to build to build a clean-tech cement manufacturing plant on this site on Water Street in Holyoke, where the buildings have since been razed.

Sublime Systems plans to build to build a clean-tech cement manufacturing plant on this site on Water Street in Holyoke, where the buildings have since been razed. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

This aerial view shows the site of Sublime Systems’ proposed clean-tech cement manufacturing plant on Water Street in Holyoke.

This aerial view shows the site of Sublime Systems’ proposed clean-tech cement manufacturing plant on Water Street in Holyoke. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Sublime Systems has signed a lease-to-buy agreement for this property on Water Street in Holyoke, where it proposes to build a clean-tech cement manufacturing plant. The buildings on site have since been razed.

Sublime Systems has signed a lease-to-buy agreement for this property on Water Street in Holyoke, where it proposes to build a clean-tech cement manufacturing plant. The buildings on site have since been razed. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

This aerial view shows the site of Sublime Systems’ proposed clean-tech cement manufacturing plant on Water Street in Holyoke.

This aerial view shows the site of Sublime Systems’ proposed clean-tech cement manufacturing plant on Water Street in Holyoke. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE

LEAH ELLIS

LEAH ELLIS

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 01-14-2024 10:00 AM

HOLYOKE — A developer of low-carbon cement has firmed up plans to build its first commercial manufacturing plant in Holyoke, bringing 70 new jobs to the city.

Sublime Systems, a Somerville start-up company producing what it calls “the only fossil-fuel-free, scalable, drop-in replacement for traditional cement in concrete,” has signed a deal for a 16-acre property on Water Street.

Sublime Systems CEO and co-founder Leah Ellis said in a statement that the site fits perfectly with the company’s goals.

“The same qualities that made Holyoke a world-class industrial hub in the past perfectly position it to now be the home for clean tech manufacturing of the future,” Ellis stated. “The Water Street site exemplifies that in its ample space, industrial zoning, access to renewable hydroelectricity, utilities and even rail.”

The manufacturing plant, which could come online as early as 2026, is expected to produce up to 30,000 metric tons of cement annually.

Speaking by phone, Ellis said the decision was the culmination of about 18 months of looking for the perfect site.

“We were just totally delighted with the Holyoke site,” she said. “It could not be more perfect.”

There’s also an element of environmental justice, Ellis said, with the Paper City’s 200-year history of manufacturing leaving a legacy of negative health effects.

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“We’re looking to have a good impact on the environment,” she said.

Green innovation

Mixed with water, sand and gravel, cement is used to make concrete, one of the most widely used substances on the planet. The cement sector is the third-largest industrial source of pollution in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency, emitting more than 500,000 tons yearly of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide.

Sublime Systems states that it uses an electrochemical process that entirely bypasses the need for extreme heat, typically requiring the burning of coal or other fossil fuels, in the traditional method of producing cement.

Its process also makes use of “non-carbonate rocks … that don’t release CO2 when decomposed into cement at ambient temperatures,” the company’s website states.

The end result is cement that is as strong and durable as any conventionally produced cement, according to the company.

The Holyoke project “paves the way for future megaton scale production of Sublime Cement to ultimately meet increasing domestic demand and develop clean manufacturing innovation for export throughout the globe,” the company states.

Sublime Systems expects to create 70 benefits-bearing jobs throughout the construction and operation of its first commercial plant.

The project is “critical for Sublime’s ability to grow its customer base and fully de-risk its technology ahead of building a one-million-ton-per-year-capacity plant, the size of traditional cement manufacturing plants.”

Sublime Systems was founded in March 2020 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by Ellis and Yet-Ming Chiang, “a serial entrepreneur” who has had a hand in founding several companies, she said.

“We were able to get venture capital and take this out of the lab,” Ellis said.

The company has raised more than $50 million from a leading consortium of climate tech investors, American Rescue Plan Act funding and strategic investor Siam Cement Group, the largest cement producer in Southeast Asia.

It currently operates a pilot plant with production capacity of more than 100 tonnes per year.

Looking ahead, Ellis said there’s a lot to be excited about. Sublime Systems is looking to revolutionize the manufacture of one of the most massively produced materials in the world.

“If we succeed, the pathway goes through Holyoke,” she said. “It would be a monumental change in the built environment.”

James Pentland can be reached at jpentland@gazettenet.com.