Cement is a critical component of our global infrastructure. It is the second-most-used resource after oil, and it is used in roads, bridges, tunnels, homes, hydropower installations, flood defenses, and more. But the cement industry also contributes to CO2 emissions at a staggering rate, contributing 7% of the total. As a result, a significant acceleration of industry decarbonization is necessary to meet this goal.
The cement industry is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonize, partly because the formula has remained the same for so long. As carbon emission regulations tighten worldwide, cement manufacturers who do not invest in technologies to decrease carbon emissions may negatively affect their businesses. Fortunately, some new approaches and innovations are addressing these challenges.
The Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA) is a global industry group that brings together companies worldwide. It is the first global heavy industry accelerator of UN Race to Zero. Members of the group represent 80% of the world’s cement industry outside of China, including several of the largest Chinese cement manufacturers. The global cement industry is expected to double from $333 billion in 2017 to $645 billion in 2030.
The GCCA has set a goal of establishing ten industrial-scale carbon-capture plants by 2030. Despite the GCCA’s ambitious goal, several obstacles still stand in the way of carbon-capture technology. These barriers include cost, public acceptance, and regulatory issues. GCCA has taken up these issues with international bodies and has proposed carbon pricing to help accelerate development.
The GCCA is launching a global program to promote alternative fuels in cement manufacturing. With its ambitions, GCCA will reduce fossil fuel usage in its production and supply chain and recycle society’s waste to fuel its production. By 2030, GCCA expects this technology to make up 22% of the industry’s total energy consumption for cement kilns.
The use of alternative fuels can reduce indirect emissions from cement kilns. Alternative fuels include natural gas, biomass, and waste-derived fuels like municipal solid wastes, tires, and sewage sludge. By 2050, these fuels are expected to reduce cement emissions by 18-24%.
Blended cement reduces CO2 emissions by 20%
In developing countries, cement production growth has accelerated due to the high demand for construction materials. However, the blending materials are not always available in sufficient quantities. For example, the availability of fly ash and slag will play a significant role in the growth of blended cement. At the same time, the power and steel sectors are also expanding to meet this demand. This means blending will require more storage space than ordinary Portland cement (OPC).
Using bio-based materials and alternative fuels could reduce CO2 emissions from cement kilns. In addition, waste products from steelmaking and coal combustion could be substituted for Portland clinker. These alternative fuels can reduce CO2 emissions per kilogram by 18-24%. However, the substitution of cement with other materials will change the properties of the adhesive. Hence, the substituted materials are only suitable for some end-uses.
In addition to the strategies mentioned above, governments and financial investors should increase their support for research and development, adopt low-carbon industrialization strategies, and provide subsidies to offset rising costs. The use of green public procurement can generate early demand for these low-carbon products and help bring down prices.
EU cement is at risk of being decarbonized by 2050
Although the general public often overlooks the cement industry, interest in the sector has increased in recent years, particularly among investors and stakeholder groups. Recently, a group of investors representing a combined USD 33 trillion in assets under management announced that they want to see the cement industry in the EU become carbon neutral by 2050. In addition, the EU recently published a taxonomy report that outlines thresholds for carbon emissions reductions, and the cement industry appears to be well-placed to achieve this goal.
The process for making cement in the EU has also become more environmentally friendly, and new technology has made it more efficient. The use of alternative fuels such as waste and biomass has also reduced emissions.
While the EU cement industry has made significant progress in reducing its emissions intensity and using alternative solid fuels, further decarbonization is still a big challenge. This will require substantial technological breakthroughs and disruptive changes to the current CMs cycle. By 2020, the industry must be decarbonized in Europe by 80% of current levels, and the process must be optimized to meet its carbon emission targets.
Next-generation cement, or green cement, has significant carbon reductions. The green cement production process uses renewable electricity. Advanced carbon capture and storage techniques could also decarbonize the cement industry, providing up to 48% CO2 emissions savings by 2050. As a result, leading cement manufacturers are currently working to develop breakthrough technologies for decarbonization. These technologies will help the cement industry reduce CO2 emissions and improve its environmental performance.