Can Nexii Building Solutions Save the Planet?

Its new building system promises faster, cheaper, and lower carbon construction.

nexii panel being installed


What is Nexii? According to the description in its press release: "Nexii designs and manufactures innovative high-performance buildings and green building products that are sustainable, cost-efficient, and resilient in the face of climate change. Its building solutions have a lower carbon footprint with 20-33% less embodied carbon, use 33% less energy overall, and 55% less heating energy."

The company is hot and is "the fastest Canadian company to reach unicorn status," meaning that it is valued at over a billion dollars.

“At Nexii we are incredibly proud of how far we’ve come since launching as a small startup in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in 2019,” says Nexii CEO Stephen Sidwell. “Today, we have expanded to eight manufacturing plants in operation or development across North America. We have world leaders on our Board, incredible investors, technology partners, and a team of over 300 all committed to our mission of changing the construction industry, bringing high-performance sustainable building solutions to every sector of business and every area of the world.”  

Its lavish website starts with the question "Why are we on this planet if not to make it better?" It makes a huge deal about the importance of solving the challenges of construction, noting also that "these emissions come not just from heating and cooling, but also from the carbon cost of materials used in construction"—what we call embodied or upfront carbon.

Its first project is described in the video above as Starbucks' first sustainably constructed café, which is a bit of a stretch. Starbucks has been trying different sustainable designs for well over a decade and I have always complained that you cannot call any standalone suburban Starbucks sustainable, but that is another story. Other completed projects include a Popeyes and a Courtyard by Marriott—hardly world-changing projects, but you have to start somewhere.

The website tells a glorious tale of sustainability and environmental commitment. Its constitution is a marvel: The company calls it "our North Star—guiding our people, our communities, and our world. It shapes our beliefs and our actions to ensure we are always doing the right thing."

screen capture of site


What the website doesn't tell you is what the product actually is—the closest it comes to is in this little strip where we learn that it is some form of the panel made with Nexiite, a breakthrough lower carbon material. Another page shows a panel and a description: "Nexii products are precision manufactured off-site and rapidly assembled on-site, reducing build times and construction costs. Our buildings are made with Nexiite and are incredibly durable, adaptable to most designs, and cost-efficient. They require a fraction of the materials and significantly less build time when compared to current construction methods."

In the history of the company, it describes how brother inventors Michael and Ben Dombowsky "invested years of research and development into the creation of the Nexii System. Ben’s invention of Nexiite, a high-performance material that enables Nexii Panels to be strong, lightweight, low-carbon, and fire and water resistant, was a key innovation in bringing the system to life."

So I went off to do a patent search and find a few by the Dombosky brothers.

Nexii panels

Michael Dombowsky and Ben Dombowsky / Google Patents / Canadian Patent CA 3033991A1

Canadian patent CA3033991A1 describes a "prefabricated insulated building panel with opposite cured cementitious layers bonded to insulation." This is a structural insulated panel (SIP)—a sandwich of cement and rigid insulation, with thickened edges for strength. The Nexii secret sauce is described here as "a material comprising a plurality of constituent materials including cement which when cured forms a hard durable material. Examples of composite cementitious materials include concrete and cementitious resin-based coating."

Basically it appears to be a foam and cement sandwich, the improvement apparently being that it is a very thin layer of cementitious coating with no thermal bridges tying the cement layers together. Conventional SIPs are made with boards laminated to the foam core with glue; on Nexii panels, the cementitious material is apparently poured in place, bonds to the foam and can wrap around the edges.

Another Canadian patent, CA2994868 appears to have the same information and the same drawings.

patent drawing

Michael Dombowsky and Ben Dombowsky / Google Patents / World patent WO2021189156A1

Another patent, WO2021189156A1, shows how you turn the panels into a Starbucks. The abstract describes the panels as "comprising a first cementitious layer, a second cementitious layer, and an insulative core, wherein the insulative core is disposed between the first and second cementitious layers."

At this point, I was really wondering what all the hype was, why it's worth a billion dollars, and why people like actor Michael Keaton are on board. I am clearly missing something; it looks and smells like a foam and cement SIP and that is not world-changing.

Gregor Robertson with Monte Paulsen
Gregor Robertson with Monte Paulsen.

Lloyd Alter

But Gregor Robertson, Nexii's executive vice president of strategy and partnerships, was the Vancouver mayor for 10 years and was tremendous at promoting green issues, cycling, building code changes—all things beloved of treehugger types. I met him at a tour of back lane houses, another initiative of his to increase housing supply. He was and is charming, intelligent, and impressive. So over Zoom, I asked him what was the big deal with Nexii.

He told Treehugger that the proprietary cementitious material had 36% less carbon than portland cement and because it is only 5/8 inches thick, they use a lot less of it. The expanded polystyrene foam was made with the best blowing agents. The buildings are 40% more airtight than conventional systems, and the system is "simple, realistic, and affordable."

Perhaps I am naive and unrealistic in my expectations in these times of climate crisis. Perhaps watching this video start with such a strong climate pitch and ending up in a suburban Starbucks is diverting my attention from the real value of this product and system. But being 33% better than a concrete tilt-up panel just isn't enough anymore, nor is a 33% energy saving. And it's still just a foam and cementitious something sandwich. It's better, but we need more.