Making bricks from coal fly ash

February 1, 2010

By Jeff Plale, 7th District State Senator

In last month’s column, I discussed the CORE Jobs Act and the state of Wisconsin’s focus on expanding local businesses and helping new ones establish themselves in our state. There are many success stories. In January, the spotlight was on CalStar, a California-based company that opened a new plant in Caledonia, Wis.

The plant will recycle coal fly ash-a byproduct produced at the We Energies power plant in Oak Creek-into bricks used for construction. Tens of thousands of tons of otherwise unused coal fly ash will be put to beneficial use. Forty percent of each brick will be made with recycled material. Because CalStar’s bricks will be steamed instead of fired as most traditional clay bricks are, their production will require 85 percent less energy.

I had the pleasure of meeting with the chief operating officer of CalStar in December, and I attended CalStar’s grand opening. Their innovative business, at 2825 4 Mile Rd., is an example of how we can harness the demand for “green” products and turn that demand into job creation. In our meeting, CalStar noted that they established themselves in Wisconsin because of our friendly business and regulatory climate. The plant will make 40 million bricks a year, ship to about five Midwestern states, and plans to employ 35 people in its Caledonia plant by 2011.

The Caledonia plant is one of eight Wisconsin businesses to receive money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the form of tax credits for clean energy manufacturing projects. It is the only business in the nation that makes coal fly ash bricks.

Historically, Wisconsin has been a leader in green job investment and in promoting businesses that sell green products. Green construction products, such as CalStar’s bricks, are an attractive concept to builders who want to be part of the rapidly growing market for green building materials. While construction overall has decreased during the economic downturn, green construction continues to grow. Wisconsin is benefiting from that new market and is at the forefront of a movement that will significantly reshape our economy in the future.

If you have any comments or questions regarding any state matter, please contact my office.

Jeff Plale is the state senator for Wisconsin’s Seventh Senate District, which spans from Milwaukee’s East Side to Oak Creek, including downtown, the Third Ward, Bay View, St. Francis, Cudahy, and South Milwaukee. He can be reached locally at (414) 744-1444 or in Madison at (800) 361-5487 or

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