Making Cement Green: Oxnard Firm Leads the Way

Jim Price, president of Oxnard’s Diversified Minerals, has entered a range of businesses with his 26-person company, but it all adds up to a single-minded focus: greener cement.

Diversified Minerals builds giant cement silos, runs a railroad spur and blends specialty cements for projects like dams and levies. But its main thrust is to re-manufacture stuff such as mining waste, the dust captured from cement kilns and other mineral byproducts into new cement.

“Diversified Mineral is probably responsible for recycling more mineral byproducts than any other company in California.” President Jim Price said. “The alternative for a lot of those mineral products is the landfill.”

Cement needs greening because it’s one of the most energy-intensive building materials around. Its carbon footprint is a 1-to-1 ratio: Every pound of cement produced generates one pound of carbon dioxide. Diversified Minerals’ rail facility helps. It has 1200 feet of track in a direct spur from Union Pacific Railroad and can handle last-mile offloading for surrounding industrial businesses. By shipping cement from places like Riverside to Oxnard via rail instead of truck, the company can save its partners nearly 22 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton of cement.

Price estimated those savings could add up to 14.9 million pounds of carbon dioxide each year if all the cement used in the Tri-Counties was shipped via rail. Diversified Minerals is ramping up its rail facility to be able to handle as many as 60 train-car loads a week. “That’s 240 truckloads a week we can get off Highway 10.”Price said “The mileage savings from source to here is significant.” It’s not clear yet how much such savings would be accounted for. But the companies that work with Diversified Minerals, such as TXI Cement, one of the largest suppliers in the country, said all trends have pointed toward a greener cement industry for years, putting Diversified Minerals in a good position. “He leads by example,” Frank Sheets, TXI communications and governmental affairs manager, said of Price. “Hopefully, more people will pick up some of the concepts and the creative ways he’s not only trying to work with the economy, but also dealing with some of the environmental issues created by carbon emissions.”

Another way Diversified Minerals tries to make its industry greener is by integrating fly ash. Fly ash is the stuff left over after burning anything – coal, trash, wood – for energy. Using it in cement makes for stronger concrete and is “one of the biggest recycling success stories in the United States,” Price said. But only coal ash meets current specification to go into cement. Diversified Minerals can treat ash from other sources such as wood or plants to make it cement ready. “We’ve got piles of samples and folks saying, ‘Here’s our fly ash – can you make it work?'” Price said. “We take non-spec material and make it meet specifications.”

One reason Diversified Minerals has branched into so many areas is Price’s restless mind for solving problems when they crop up. “If you ask me what time it is, I’ll build you a watch,” he said. As part of its silo rental business, for example, Price had to deal with failing augur bearings. The screw-like augur shaft inside the silos keeps material turning and moving, but dust often seeps into the shaft bearings and grinds them to a halt, requiring the bearing to be replaced. Cement operations often run 24/7, year-round, and for years Price seemed to get an emergency call on Christmas morning for a broken augur bearing several hours away. He and his staff would draw straws for who had to do the job. So Price designed a new bearing assembly that uses pressurized grease to keep dust out of the bearing. And if the bearing does fail, the shaft can ride on the bearings assembly’s high-density plastic housing without being damaged until the bearing is replaced. Diversified Minerals ships a lot of them and has a patent pending for the design. “I’m not in the bearing business,” Price said, “I just ultimately didn’t like to work on Christmas .

“Diversified Minerals sits in Oxnard’s industrial district next to Gills Onions, which has received national recognition for a new fuel-cell plant that uses hundreds of thousands of gallons of onion juice each day to produce clean energy. Price keeps in close touch with Gill Owner Steve Gill and maintains a friendly rivalry. “We’re trying to out-green each other.” Price said.