CalStar raises $15M for green products

Green brick builder CalStar Products wrapped up its Series C round last week, but the CEO who led much of the fund-raising push wasn’t around to talk about it.

Mike Kane resigned as CEO in early February, just about nine months after joining the company. Kane, who remains on the CalStar board, joined the Australian building and construction materials giant Boral. Kane will work for Boral in its Georgia location to be closer to his family, he says.

Replacing Kane in the CEO spot is Tom Pounds, who joined CalStar in 2007 as COO. Previously, he was senior marketing and business development executive for Alien Technology.

Last week, Pounds and CalStar announced that the company raised $15 million in debt and equity from Nth Power, The Westly Group, Clearpoint Capital, Foundation Capital and EnerTech Capital.

Newark, Calif.-based CalStar uses a chemical process to make a “green brick” that it says requires about 90% less energy and generates 90% less carbon dioxide during production than traditional clay bricks.

The startup—whose technology the Cleantech Group named one of the top 10 cleantech promises to watch in 2010—makes bricks using fly ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power plants. Typical bricks, mostly made up clay, are cooked in a kiln that’s heated at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit for between 24 hours and 48 hours. CalStar’s bricks—which are made of 40% fly ash, 59% sand and 1% chemicals—are doused in steam in a curing process that takes about eight hours.

As a result, CalStar says that each of its bricks creates 0.2 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, compared to a traditional brick which produces about 1.3 pounds.

The Washington, D.C.-based Brick Industry Association questions the reliability of using fly ash in construction and building materials and maintains that clay brick is environmentally friendly because it is made from naturally abundant materials and does not contain highly toxic compounds. A spokesman also says that CalStar should not call its product a “brick” since that word refers to moist clay or shale hardened by heat.

investors apparently don’t feel the same way. The company previously raised $15 million over two rounds of funding from Foundation Capital and EnerTech Capital.

Paul Holland, who leads the cleantech practice at Foundation Capital, says that CalStar is one of a growing number of companies that is creating safe, green alternatives for the building materials business, such as Serious Materials, another Foundation Capital portfolio company.

Shortly after CalStar raised $8 million in its second round of funding early last year from Foundation Capital and EnerTech Capital, Kane was recruited from Holcim Inc., a supplier of blended cements and related components. Kane told PE Week last fall that his initial thought at coming to Silicon Valley was that the tech-heavy region, which is not known for construction and building expertise, is the wrong place to develop new brick technology. But he said he changed his mind about that after meeting the engineers

“I’ve never had so many smart, young Ph.D.s working for me,” said Kane, who has worked in the construction materials business for more than 35 years.

The news of the Series C funding and Kane’s departure follows the company’s launch of a low-carbon brick production factory in Caledonia, Wis. The plant will have the capacity to produce about 12 million green bricks a year, initially. CalStar hopes to eventually open a few more brick-making plants in the Midwest over the next five years that will allow it to make up to 600 million green bricks a year, or roughly less than 10% of the overall U.S. brick market, which averages about 6 billion to 8 billion bricks a year.

“That should comfortably position us in the green brick space as it grows,” Kane told PE Week last fall.