Sublime Systems lands $87M federal award for low-carbon cement plant in Holyoke

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. SUBLIME SYSTEMS

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. SUBLIME SYSTEMS

Leah Ellis, CEO and co-founder of Sublime Systems

Leah Ellis, CEO and co-founder of Sublime Systems PHOTO BY SINEAD DUBEAU

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 03-25-2024 3:45 PM

Modified: 03-26-2024 12:26 PM


HOLYOKE — A developer of low-carbon cement is in line for up to $87 million from the federal government to accelerate the construction of its manufacturing plant in Holyoke.

Sublime Systems announced the award Monday from the Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations. The money is part of $6 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act earmarked for projects that move energy-intensive industries toward net-zero emissions.

“Access to sufficient capital for industrial-scale demonstrations is the single biggest obstacle preventing breakthrough innovations from reaching the scale humanity needs to combat the climate crisis,” Sublime Systems CEO and co-founder Leah Ellis said in a statement.

She said the award will allow the company to scale up production more rapidly than would otherwise have been possible. The funding will go toward as much as 50% of the cost of building the facility as well as some operating costs.

The investment means Sublime has raised more than $140 million from leading climate tech investors, strategic investor Siam Cement Group, and DOE.

Applicants were required by the DOE to submit community benefits plans showing that they would engage communities and labor, create quality jobs, and prioritize economic and environmental justice for disadvantaged groups.

Gov. Maura Healey congratulated Sublime on its award.

“Sublime represents the tremendous potential the climate-tech industry has to transform and grow Massachusetts’ economy,” she stated.

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The company announced in January that it had signed a lease-to-own agreement for a 16-acre former industrial property on Water Street in Holyoke. It expects to provide at least 70 jobs. The goal is for the manufacturing plant to be up and running by the first quarter of 2026, and for hiring to begin in the middle of next year.

Sublime expects to create hundreds of jobs during the construction phase, and has signed agreements to negotiate project labor agreements with the region’s building trade unions.

It has signed a strategic partnership agreement with the United Steelworkers — which represents approximately half of unionized cement workers in the U.S. today — focused on operational positions at the plant.

Cooler process

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.

Ordinary Portland cement is made with a 200-year-old process that thermally decomposes limestone, a rock that is nearly half carbon dioxide by weight, in fossil-fueled kilns running at temperatures as high as 1450 C.

Sublime uses an electrochemical process that entirely bypasses the need for extreme heat and limestone in the traditional method of producing cement. The process extracts reactive calcium and silicates from non-carbonate rocks at ambient temperature.

Ellis said previously the company was drawn to Holyoke by the welcoming attitude of the mayor and community groups, as well as the city’s abundant hydroelectric power. It received $1.05 million in tax credits for the project through the state’s Economic Development Incentive Program, as well as local Tax Increment Financing (TIF) valued at $351,000 to offset property taxes.

“Thanks to the dynamic interplay between federal, state, and local policy, we are ushering in a new era where economic opportunity and fighting climate change go hand in hand — both in our community and so many similar former industrial hubs throughout the United States,” Mayor Joshua A. Garcia said in a statement.

The federal grant also includes money to bring educational resources to Holyoke public schools through a partnership between Sublime and the Smithsonian Science Education Center. Ellis wrote in an email that the process of submitting its community benefits plan “allowed Sublime to engage with community organizations and stakeholders to learn what they would need most from a new industrial manufacturer in their city.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, said in a statement he was “thrilled” at the funding award, calling it “an investment that will spur significant economic opportunity in the Paper City and throughout western and central Massachusetts.”

Sublime was founded four years ago at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by Ellis and Yet-Ming Chiang. The company runs a pilot plant in Somerville producing up to 250 metric tons of cement yearly. It aims to produce up to 30,000 tons a year in Holyoke.

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