AUCBM: energy & emissions
Last December over 580 delegates and some 135 exhibitors convened in Dubai, UAE, for the 17th Arab-International Cement Conference & Exhibition. Organised by the Arab Union for Cement and Building Materials (AUCBM) every two years, this major regional event provided delegates from across the region with an opportunity to engage with key technical issues facing the industry, with a particular focus on optimisation and energy reduction technologies.
The proceedings were formally opened by Dr Hassan Rateb, vice president of the AUCBM and chairman of Sinai Cement (Egypt), who set the agenda for the conference by highlighting the two central themes which would dominate discussion throughout the event: CO2 reduction and energy efficiency.
“The cement industry has a duty to develop technologies to eliminate harmful emissions and reduce CO2 emissions,” he stated, adding that: “The world will not accept that for each tonne of cement, a tonne of CO2 is produced.”
A second and corresponding challenge, he argued, will be to achieve a sustained reduction in energy consumption, which will require new technologies and a more rapid shift towards alternative energy sources. To this end, Dr Rateb declared 2013 as “the year for research” in the Arab cement sector, with the objective of exploring and adopting best practice technologies in these two key areas.
Indeed, following years of rampant capacity expansion in the MENA region, the focus for producers now has switched to issues relating to alternative energy, optimisation and cost reduction, rather than capacity expansion, a fact reflected in the content of the presentations.
Delegates were introduced to a comprehensive series of grinding presentations covering all technical aspects, with insightful contributions from Christian Pfeiffer, Fives FCB, Cemengal exploring ball mill grinding solutions, while Gebr Pfeiffer and Loesche represented vertical roller mill (VRM) techologies.
Dr Aimo Haack from ThyssenKrupp Polysius AG (Germany) presented the first operational experiences of the Polycom and Sepol PC high-efficiency grinding system, which he claims offers the best solution for upgrading existing ball mill configurations. Using the Polycom high-pressure roller as a pregrinder to increase throughput, in conjunction with a ball mill and Sepol-PC static dynamic separator, Polysius create a combi-grinding system with a 40 per cent increase in output and up to 50 per cent reduced specific energy consumption.
Thomas Fahrland of Loesche GmbH (Germany) explored the differences between the ball mill (comminution by impact and attrition) and the VRM (comminution under pressure and shear), and challenged accusations that cements produced by VRMs are of inferior quality, and characterised by higher water demand, retarded setting time and lower compressive strength due to the resulting particle size and distribution. In fact, VRMs are easily capable of producing any cements that can be produced by ball mills, he argued. Moreover, VRMs are more flexible than ball mills, and are able to produce a wider range of cements with substantially lower specific energy consumption, he explained.
Innovation in services
Operation & Maintenance (O&M) is becoming an increasingly attractive option for cement plant owners worldwide, particularly those with a strategic interest limited to the purely commercial aspects of the cement business. FLSmidth is certainly one of the leaders in O&M services in the cement sector with some 16.5Mta of capacity on long-term O&M contracts, according to the company representative, Samir Idris. He described how FLSmidth will, under a typical contract, take over the complete day-to-day operation and management of a cement plant in return for a set price per tonne of clinker/cement produced. A bonus/penalty structure ensures the correct incentives are in place to encourage production optimisation.
Thus, FLSmidth is able to leverage its unique resources and expertise in cement manufacturing technology, leaving the plant owner to focus on its core competencies.
The O&M model is also suitable for new operations starting up in emerging countries, which lack an established industry and availability of trained plant engineers and other human resources. A structured technology transfer and training programme can be designed to ensure that at the end of the contract term, a full complement of staff has been adequately trained to take over the plant.
Exploring FLSmidth’s O&M services further, John Dicom outlined the development of the Intelligent Collaborative Environment (ICE Centre), which offers full monitoring, consulting and troubleshooting services to cement plants anywhere in the world via the worldwide web. Therefore, a team of specialists in the ICE Centre in Denmark is able to link up to a plant’s process control system and perform the same actions as the local control room operators. The service effectively offers plants anywhere in the world the opportunity to benefit from the specialist knowledge and expertise of one of the leading technology suppliers.
Turning to energy issues and related technologies, Dirk Lechtenberg, director of MVW Lechtenberg & Partner (Germany), investigated strategies for energy efficiency for the cement industry in the MENA region, where although fuel is often cheap, competition is forcing producers to reduce costs. Mr Lechtenberg explored three main opportunities for significant cost reduction: raw material substitution (limestone, slag, ash etc); increased alternative fuels, including biomass, municipal, commercial and industrial waste; and state-of-the-art energy-saving technologies primarily relating to grinding and process control. In terms of thermal substitution alone, the MENA cement industry could save hundreds of millions of dollars by switching from natural gas to RDF, even at an achievable substitution rate of 20 per cent.
With energy prices in Saudi Arabia so low, it is perhaps suprising to learn that one of the largest Waste Heat Recovery (WHR) systems is currently being installed in the country. Mr Muayad Matar, technical advisor of Najran Cement Company (NCC), presented an overview of the company’s new 7000tpd brownfield clinker line, set to be commissioned by 3Q13. The new plant will incorporate a WHR system capable of generating 27.1MW, making it one of the largest of its kind in the world, and a first for Saudi Arabia. The system, which will save approximately 37,200tpd of Heavy Fuel Oil, will utilise exhaust heat from NCC’s kiln and cooler and is being constructed on an EPC basis by Sinoma Energy Conservation Ltd (China).
Tarek Samaha of RAK White Cement Company (UAE), provided an overview of the regional trends which have seen nominal cement capacity in the MENA region increase from 153Mta in 2005 to 285Mta in 2012 – a rise of over 85 per cent in just seven years. Iran remains the largest producer with 65Mta of installed clinker capacity, followed by Saudi Arabia (50Mta) and the UAE in third place with 26.5Mta. The UAE has been hard hit by the crisis since 2009, and domestic consumption is set to reach just 10Mta in 2012. Companies have therefore sought to export where possible to Iraq and Africa, to raise utilisation levels. Nevertheless, producers suffered substantial losses in 2011, and although gradual market improvement is apparent as the UAE benefits economically from its position as a regional safehaven in the context of the Arab Spring events, it is clear that the surplus capacity is structural, and that the industry will have to consolidate to become financially sustainable once again.
However, while grey cement producers are under pressure, RAK White is embarking on a different journey altogether. With access to high-quality raw materials, the company is one of the foremost white cement producers in the region, and has seen production volumes nearly double from 0.31Mt in 2005 to 0.59Mt in 2012. Going forward, the company plans to expand clinker production capacity to reach 0.9Mta by 2014, thus consolidating its position as one of the leading producers and exporters of high quality white cement worldwide.
This year’s event took place against a complex political and economic backdrop, not least in Syria, which remains in a state of civil war. Given the fact that the AUCBM Secretariat is based in Damascus, where operating conditions and safety have deteriorated dramatically, full gratitude and respect is due to the AUCBM team for the successful organisation of this event.
Article first published in International Cement Review, February 2013.