The emerging paradigm for new businesses is doing something positive for the environment/society while, at the same time, making money. Here’s what a couple of guys from Tempe, Arizona are doing with a new company called BetR-blok.
BetR-blok is a “green” building block made from recycled paper and other cellulose materials, which serve as a substitute for lumber – hence our slogan “Building Homes by Saving Trees.” Saving trees is one of the most important goals of our company, but building great-looking, energy-efficient homes is just as important.
BetR-blok saves on construction costs because it is self-insulating and requires less finish work. It is significantly less expensive than its nearest competitors - ICFs (Insulated Concrete Forms) and AACs (Autoclaved Aerated Concrete). And when the BetR-blok manufacturing process is fully automated, its price will be directly competitive with wood-frame stucco. In addition, its superior R-Value saves heating and cooling costs for the life of the home. So, compared with other building materials over time, BetR-blok will save the home owner a lot of money and benefit the environment.
BetR-blok, LLC is beyond the start-up stage. The BetR-blok prototype manufacturing system is operating and making blocks. But it makes blocks slowly - not fast enough to make BetR-blok a mainstream construction material. A small test home and other structures have been built, and a great number of tests have been performed. The results are in and it’s time to look at full commercialization.
We know what
we have to do to move BetR-blok into mass production and we know how to do it.
The most serious challenge we have is raising money to automate the system. Right now, all materials handling and
equipment operation is done manually.That
takes too much time to be commercially feasible. Automating the system will significantly speed
up production, cut operation costs and make it possible to save a great many
also get us to a point where the risk of our project is greatly minimized,
which will attract outside investors. In the investment world, we are technically
at the stage of development called “The Valley of Death” – between the Proof of
Concept stage and Commercial Viability stage. The V of D is the point where a
company has a proven product, but isn’t quite far enough along to attract
significant investment. It is also where many projects meet their doom, but we won’t
let that happen.
So, who are
“we” and what specifically will it take to automate? “We” are actually two entities – a non-profit
organization and its corporate spin-off. We started as a non-profit environmental
research organization called The Center for Alternative Building Studies (CABS). CABS mission is to conduct research on
alternative building materials which do not pollute or deplete the environment. Here's a recent ABC Television interview about an earlier iteration of BetR-blok.
We began research
on what emerged as BetR-blok in 2004. As a non-profit, we were self-supporting
through corporate donations and government grants. In recent times, those sources of support
have all but disappeared. So when
BetR-blok began to show commercial feasibility it was spun off from CABS as
BetR-blok, LLC. Now the idea is to
commercialize BetR-blok so that it can support itself as well as provide on-going
support for other CABS projects.
The Automation Project
our system will involve some equipment modifications and the integration of
computerized control and actuation components. We are cooperating with a design group representing various disciplines
from the Arizona State University Polytechnic Campus to conceptualize and design
the BetR-blok automation system. We have
previously worked with Empire Fabrication in Mesa, Arizona to modify equipment
and systems and they will provide those services on this project as well. All of the assembly and testing will be done
at CABS research facility in Maricopa, Arizona.
automation project begins with converting our 2000 gallon Mega-Mixer from
mechanical to hydraulic power, changing the electric motors on our materials
transport augers to hydraulic motors and replacing the swinging door on our
press with an automatic ejection system. Then we have to add a short sliding conveyor belt and install all the sensors, actuators, and motors needed to run the
automated system. Lastly, we have to buy
additional materials handling equipment.
Right now, all of our system's process steps, shown above, are done manually as follows:
1. The 2000 gallon Mega-Mixer has to be filled, started, sped up or slowed down, tilted and drained manually. This is done by initializing, adjusting or changing various controls, pumps and valves, which takes a lot of running around and constant monitoring. Automation will control all of these things automatically.
2. The materials transport augers have to be switched on sequentially and run until materials reach a desired level in a hopper. This is not only time consuming but subject to error. Accurately controlling the speed of the augers with a computer and being able to operate and stop them simultaneously - and very quickly - will radically speed up the process. It also eliminates human monitoring and improves mix accuracy and consistency.
3. The swinging door on the press makes removing blocks a slow process. The press operator has to finish pressing a block, and then back off the piston so the door can be opened. He or she then has to go around in front of the press, open the press door - which weighs over 60 lbs - place a catch plate in front of the press opening and return to the hydraulic valve to eject the block onto the catch plate. After that, the block has to be manually removed from the plate, the plate has to be moved, and the door has to be closed before pressing the next block. The current un-automated process is shown in this 1 min. video excerpt.
4. Changing the swinging press door to an automated ejection system makes it possible to operate the door with hydraulic cylinders. The cylinders open the door with amazing speed so that the blocks can be ejected from the press automatically onto a block ejection platform.
5. Then the press will run unattended. In fact, with full automation, the entire block-making process will run unattended except for removing finished blocks from the conveyor belt and filling hoppers with materials. These things will only have to be done once or twice daily.
Help Us Automate!
lot more details to automation, and you’re welcome to them - especially if you
want to consider a sizable donation or proprietary stake in the company. In that case, we can send you our long-form
Business Plan. But I think you get the picture. We really do know where we’re going and how to get there. Now we just
need the fuel. We need your support to help us
escape from the Valley of Death and get our system automated so that we can mainstream
BetR-blok and significantly reduce the number of trees being used in
The amount needed for "Automating BetR-blok" is $90,000.00.
If we are fortunate enough to exceed the amount we need for Automation, we will apply the additional funds to the three following projects:
1.) If funded to 300K - Certification by the International Code Council – Evaluation Service (ICC-ES)
It has already been verified that BetR-blok meets the structural requirements needed for homes, but ICC-ES Certification will be required to construct multi-home developments throughout the nation and around the world. The ICC-ES does technical evaluations of building materials. ICC-ES evaluation reports are used to determine code compliance and enforce building regulations. Manufacturers use reports as evidence that their products (and this is especially important if the products are new and innovative) meet code requirements. ICC-ES evaluation reports are public documents, available free of charge on the worldwide Web. They are used by building regulators, manufacturers, contractors, designers, architects, engineers, and anyone else with an interest in the building industry. All of these people look to ICC-ES evaluation reports for evidence that products and systems are code-compliant.
2.) If funded to 500K - Construction of a Full-size, Zero Waste, Energy Plus Model Home
The plans for a 5500 sq. ft. state-of-the-art BetR-blok model home have already been conceptualized, designed, drawn and approved by Building Safety. This home will be larger than normal in order to accommodate all of the systems, equipment and appliances which need to be tested for use in future grand-scale BetR-blok housing developments. The model will have everything needed to make it truly green and energy self-sufficient. This includes photo-voltaic solar power, gray & black water filtration systems, permaculture/composting, and rainwater catchment. All appliances and devices will have the highest energy efficient ratings and water saving features. This Model will be thoroughly tested to insure its smooth integration into a BetR-blok home/community which will prioritize Zero Waste, Energy Plus strategies and true – not green washed - sustainable standards.
3.) If funded to 1.5M - Building a Scalable BetR-blok Manufacturing Facility
The "Automating BetR-blok" Project will ensure the commercial viability of BetR-blok single press and mixer systems. These systems are trailer mounted and designed for small contractors and recycling facilities. Systems producing ten or more blocks per cycle will be scalable and housed in fixed manufacturing facilities. These facilities will have sufficient production capabilities to supply national construction materials chain stores like Ace, Home Depot and Lowes. The BetR-blok team has already determined how these facilities should look and function. BetR-blok Manufacturing Facility design will be consistent with BetR-blok home design in that both are planned to be as energy efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. BetR-blok aspires to be more than just a business – it wants to be a significant advocate for the new philosophy of sustainability which will accrue to the benefit of future generations.
A two-year study on the basic properties of BetR-blok was conducted at Arizona State University before any structures were built. BetR-blok was shown to be safe, affordable and sustainable by research which was conducted to investigate those claims.
Phase One of the research covered the preparation and mixing of samples with detailed mix weights and measures for 49 compressive strength tests. Photos of test setups are part of the research and the results of selected pull and creep tests were listed. The report also includes an “Observations” section describing the test conditions and how the mixes react as far as shrinkage, set time and other variables. Phase Two included the scientific test data with detailed descriptive test procedures, photos of test equipment, and three appendices with over forty pages of graphs. Tables in this section list the results of compressive strength, pull and creep tests. This 62-page document contains the most current scientific test information available about BetR-blok.
After initial testing, it was necessary to find out how well BetR-blok would perform during construction and under actual living conditions. To investigate the performance of BetR-blok, an experimental structure called Paper Palace One was built. Paper Palace One required about two thousand blocks and one hundred roof panels to build. During construction, a Data Acquisition System (DAS) was installed. DAS sensors were built into the roof and walls to collect information on heat transfer, moisture penetration (breathability), and power consumption. DAS data was collected and analyzed for about four years.
Regular on-site inspections were conducted and observations have been made to determine any changes in condition of the building over time. In eight years there has been no degradation, leaks or major changes of any kind.
Recently, a Tempe, Arizona structural engineering firm verified that BetR-blok exceeds the structural requirements for building single story homes. This was a key factor in local Building Safety approval.
BetR-blok LLC is projected to exceed the profit margin of most companies in the block and brick manufacturing industry because BetR-blok is comparatively inexpensive, self-insulating and load bearing. Since the cost of block transportation limits the reasonable market area of any single BetR-blok production facility, it makes sense, at least initially, to sell franchises to other areas of the country. In a later stage of growth, the resources may be available to maintain a proprietary interest in production facilities set up in distant areas of the U.S. or even in other countries.
Industry Standards Data to support the above paragraph was taken from NAICS code 327331 – Concrete Block and Brick Manufacturing. It is the most recent information available based on 24 companies nationwide compiled by RMA. The information was accessed on 10/18/2012.
RISKS AND CHALLENGES
BetR-blok is not yet well known or accepted. Building Safety officials are largely unfamiliar with the material, and they often require a private Civil or Structural Engineer, hired by the homeowner or builder, to “stamp” building plans so that Building Safety Offices can approve them. Stamping the plans means that the private engineer has determined that the building will be safe. Most BetR-blok buildings are currently approved this way, which is code compliant but more costly for the home owner or builder. Increasing numbers of engineers and architects are becoming interested in green building materials and the new business opportunities afforded by them. But many still know very little about green construction per se, and it’s sometimes difficult to find one who is willing to work with new materials like BetR-blok. To eliminate the need to find local Structural Engineers to stamp plans, BetR-blok must be nationally certified by the ICC-ES (International Codes Committee – Evaluation Service) or UL (United Laboratories).
These organizations evaluate building products, components, methods and materials for compliance with codes. The evaluation process culminates with the issuance of reports on code compliance, which are made available free of charge to Building Safety officials, contractors, estimators, architects, engineers, and anyone else with an interest in the building industry and construction. This report provides Building Safety offices with the information they need to approve BetR-blok without the need to involve an outside engineer. Since the basic properties of BetR-blok have already been tested by Arizona State University, our cooperating engineering firm feels that there is more than a good chance that ICC-ES testing will proceed smoothly.
While all of the above information is accurate, there has been a recent major breakthrough in BetR-blok approval and acceptance. It has been determined by a prestigious engineering firm that BetR-blok meets, actually exceeds, the structural specifications for reinforced masonry. This means that single story homes can be built with BetR-blok following the standard methods for building masonry walls with little or no additional cost.
To minimize any potential issues with mechanical, electronic or computerized systems, BetR-blok will work with Empire Precision Machining in Mesa, Arizona – a Caterpillar affiliate. Empire is one of the most respected mechanical engineering firms in the country. This group has the background and experience to make the BetR-blok process fast enough to be profitable.
CONTINUING AVAILABILITY OF CELLULOSE SOURCES
The electronic world hasn’t led to a significant reduction in paper consumption. In fact, in 2012 (the most recent year for which figures are available), the U.S. was using more paper than in 1980. Paper use has increased over the last 25 years, with a small drop occurring in the last 6 years. The reasons for this decline have not been analyzed, but we can speculate that it results from a combination of trends that may include more purely electronic communications and transactions as well as less newspaper readership. There are also new efficiency measures by many large corporations - like WalMart, Hewlett Packard, and Bank of America - to reduce their packaging and paper use for both economic and environmental reasons.
A ten-block BetR-blok facility running one shift per day requires 113 tons of cellulose per month or 1,356 tons per year. Running three shifts (24hrs. per day) would require about 4,068 tons per year. Just one of the Materials Recycling Facilities in the Phoenix area recycles about 50,000 tons of paper per year. So there will never be a shortage of paper for BetR-blok.
If paper ever does begin to diminish in supply, there are other large sources of cellulose such as forestry by-products, agricultural and construction waste, out-of-spec paper manufacturing waste and paper mill sludge. A small amount of this material is being used now but a great deal more of it is available as a relatively inexpensive source of raw material to make BetR-blok.
--- “Thank You Blok-Hed” Email ---
The hilarious “Thank You Blok-Hed” email is custom tailored to your email address, and artfully written in caps and lower case with accurate punctuation. This email is so funny that you will want to delete it immediately to avoid Destructive Comical Sensory Overload (DCSO) – a highly communicable and infrequently fatal laughing disease. So, donate anything and receive your own individualized, generic, belly-busting, funny-bone jarring “Thank You Blok-Hed” email shortly after the campaign. NOTE: We are a 501c3 non-profit organization. Therefore, your contribution is tax deductible. Thanks for your donation.
--- “Honorary Blok-Hed” Certificate ---
You’ll be grateful and possibly ecstatic to download, print and hang your ornate “Honorary Blok-Hed” Certificate right next to all your degrees, sports accomplishments and ancestral pictorial treasures. Placed in a flamboyant frame of your choice (not included) and printed in multi-colored inks limited only by your imagination, and the capabilities of your printer, this Certificate has a creative blank area for inserting your name. See it at the end of our Project Description. An added bonus is the “Thank You Blok-Hed” Email, which you will also receive. Thanks for your donation. We are a non-profit org. so it's tax deductible.
--- “Be a Blok-Hed!” Bumper Sticker ---
Mailed to you in a plainly marked envelope, with your correctly-spelled name and address prominently displayed, this fashionable, multi-color Bumper Sticker has an adhesive back worthy of an Emmy for stickiness. Don’t stick it any place you don’t want it because once stuck, you’re out of luck! Permanently adheres to glass, metal and all kinds of plastic, even wood. Its message is fun, its look is funny, it’s cool and it’s sticky. See it pictured at the end of our Project Description. You also get the “Thank You Blok-Hed” Email and “Honorary Blok-Hed” Certificate. Thanks for your donation. We are non-profit so it’s tax deductible.
You too can have an authentic “piece” of our company – a BetR-Bloklet. A BetR-Bloklet is a small, ice-cube size solid cube made from actual, 100% certified pieces of BetR-Blok. We will turn it into a key chain for you so you can carry your piece of BetR-blok with you wherever you go. Just think of the conversations you can start with it... See a picture of it at the end of our Project Description. Also included are all the Rewards for the above smaller donations. Thanks so much. Your donation is tax deductible.
--- Official ”Blok-Hed Surprise” T-shirt ---
This envy grabbing T-shirt is made of 100% cotton or man-made, synthetic material mix for long life and versatility. It truly promises to be the most spectacular addition to your wardrobe. Its design, graphics, wording and coloration are proprietary and held so closely that they have not yet been disclosed - even to us. A recently-discovered unsubstantiated guess at what the T-shirt may look like is covertly hidden at the end of our Project Description. You’ll also get all the foregoing Rewards for smaller donations. Thanks very much for your contribution - we appreciate it. And since we are a non-profit organization, yes, it’s tax deductible.
- “The Incredible I'm A Blok-Hed Tumbler” -
If you should feel the need for a drink after making a contribution to BetR-blok, here’s the perfect solution – the “I’m a Blok-Hed” tumbler. This tumbler has several advanced design features --perfect for containing many types of liquid. Its rounded rim fits mouths of all shapes and sizes. Its sleek, slim ergonomic shape makes lifting it a breeze. And this mug makes a statement -“I’m a Blok- Hed” – printed right on it. So relax and have that drink because not only does the entire BetR-blok concept hold water, but so does the tumbler. Of course, the tumbler comes with all the above rewards for smaller donations, and a tax deduction! See a likeness of it after the Project Description. And thank you very much for your generous donation.
--- “Baby BetR-Blok” --- The Baby BetR-Blok comes packaged with an official “I‘m a Baby BetR-Blok” label. It doesn’t confuse, mislead or upset you by gurgling or crying. You don’t have to feed it or tend to its needs – or even keep it. It doesn’t do anything except be a Baby BetR-Blok. You can escape a lot of responsibility with this baby. Narrowly contemplating a Baby BetR-Blok for several seconds on a twice-daily basis will bring on a wave of relief at what you’ve successfully avoided. You’ll love your Baby BetR-Blok but you won’t feel committed. See a baby picture of it at the end of our Project Description. All other Rewards for smaller donations are included. Emphatic thanks for your donation. It IS tax deductible.
--- “A Certified Full Size Pet BetR-Blok” --- This outstanding 24”x12”x 4” twenty-pound furless treasure is a gift for the person who has everything - because no one in the whole world, while people have walked the earth, has yet received a full-size Pet BetR-Blok by U.S. mail. The gift of a Pet BetR-Blok teaches responsibility, good stewardship, excellent masonry skills - and it doesn’t shed. Think of it. It’s much better than naming a star for someone because you can’t get your own star by U.S. mail. If you could, it would be a very destructive relationship for everyone. And all other rewards for smaller donations come with the Pet BetR-blok. Thanks beyond imagination for your donation - totally tax deductible.
---“Your Private Invitation to the Inestimable BetR-Blok Blok Party” ---
When we’re funded, we’re going to do something unequivocally special for anyone who has donated super generously to us – we’re holding a ribbon cutting party complete with BetR-Blok system demonstrations, workshops, food, drink, pets, children, music, art, games and a veritable saturnalia of Blok-related adventures. This is going to be fun, free and frolicking. We’ll have to Blok off the entire area, maybe even put up road Bloks. Everything from other donations is included. Thank you soberly and slavishly for your donation, which is tax deductible.
--- “The 501c3 Corporate or Any Size Business or Individual Mega Donation Write-off” --- We are raising donations for BetR-blok through our sister, non-profit, research organization – The Center for Alternative Building Studies (CABS). CABS is a registered non-profit 501c3 organization dedicated to studying alternative building materials which do not deplete or pollute the environment. So your Mega Donation, however much it is, is totally tax deductible. And we can promise, the more you donate, the more you write off! Experience the fun and ease of adding decimal places to your donation. And, of course, you get everything offered for all other donations as well as the supreme goodwill of the Blok-Heds at BetR-blok. Most humble and heartfelt thanks for your donation - however much it is!