The big bash in Toronto...
The 57th IEEE-IAS/PCA Cement Industry Technical Conference took place on 26-30 April 2015 at the Sheraton Hotel Toronto, Canada. Building on successes of previous years and the renewed vitality in the North American cement sector, the annual IEEE cement industry conference attracted a record attendance of over 900 delegates and a large equipment exhibition.
With cement demand in North America now back on track and with much of the investment activites related to NESHAP compliance completed, delegates participating agreed that the IEEE conference was one of confidence and optimism.
The five-day event is the one of biggest single gatherings of cement producers and suppliers in the annual calendar, but it is the mix of activities on offer that make this event essential for anyone involved in the North American cement industry.
All credit is due to the organising committee for the new and expanded programme which offered cement plant staff the opportunity to extend their knowledge of cement manufacturing technology through a series of tutorials and training seminars, in addition to the regular conference programme.
The PCA presented two comprehensive tutorials covering kiln control and plant chemistry, while a series of tutorials highlighted alternative fuels, as well as practical aspects of health and safety certification.
The Professional Training seminars, started last year and designed for personnel new to the industry, once again gave equipment and service providers the chance to present their expertise in much greater detail than otherwise within the confines of a technical presentation. Extended sessions were conducted on every part of the production process from quarry and crushing (Hazemag, Germany), solid alternative fuels (Schenck Process LLC), motor basics (Siemens Industry), vertical roller mill operation and trouble shooting (Gebr Pfeiffer Inc) and so on.
The formal opening of the Technical Sessions – or conference proceedings – was presided over by the Chair of the meeting, Jeffery Nagel (Resco Products) and the opening address by conference organising committee Chair, Martin Vroegh, who is also director of environmental affairs, Votorantim Cement North America, St Marys Cement.
US demand recovery gathers pace
Always a highlight at IEEE, Group Vice President and Chief Economist of the PCA, Ed Sullivan, presented his analysis of the US cement market with characteristic enthusiasm.
Cement consumption in the US increased by 6.5Mt to 86Mt in 2014, up 8.2 per cent, which, according to Sullivan, is exactly what the PCA predicted. Moreover, he argued, US cement demand will increase by 7.5 per cent in 2015 followed by 7.9 per cent in 2016.
“In the past the optimism I spoke of was met with scepticism. After my presentation last year, when I predicted eight per cent growth, a CEO grabbed me and said: ‘Ed, I wish I lived in your world.’ A year later, cement demand rose by 8.2 per cent. You don’t need to be an economist to embrace the optimism in the market today.”
Mr Sullivan went on to argue that all the economic indicators are pointing to a sustained recovery: the US will have sustained growth as far as we can see. Indeed, he conceded, there are risks in terms of the geopolitical instability in Russian and Ukraine, the slowdown in China, ongoing problems in the Middle East and of course, the unresolved European existential crisis.
But, at the heart of this optimistic analysis, Sullivan told the audience, there are three powerful drivers: “Jobs, jobs and jobs”. Jobs, he argued, create the households that support residential construction and lay the foundations for strengthening fiscal conditions. The US created 250,000 jobs in 2014 and is on course to create another 3m in 2015.
Furthermore, solid construction sector growth is now underway (2.5 per cent in 2014 and 5.6 per cent in 2015). Not only are healthy gains evident in the residential and non-residential sectors, but government spending is also increasing for the first time in eight years, driven by pent-up public demand.
Low oil prices, while having a detrimental effect on consumption in some states, will be overall positive on a national level, adding 20-30 basis points to real GDP growth over 2015-16.
On first glance, this scenario may appear to some observers as overly optimistic, but as Mr Sullivan pointed out, US demand has still not recovered to pre-recession levels. The US is still climbing out of the most severe downturn since the Great Depression. And this is a long recovery: 15 years from peak to peak, with the market only reaching pre-recession levels by 2019.
All this is good news for producers, who will see utilisation rates rise from 76 per cent in 2014 to 80 per cent in 2015. Looking further ahead, the implications of this growth trend are significant. If utilisation levels reach 90 per cent in 2018, companies will be obliged to reopen plants that were mothballed during the crisis, or else restart imports. The strong dollar may make imports, now climbing to around 9Mt, more attractive until all import capacity is utilised (around 40Mta). Thereafter, new capacity will be back on the agenda. The longer-term demand outlook is also positive, and is being driven by robust demographics: population will grow by 58m (+18 per cent) over the next 20 years to 2035. (See ICR April for full commentary by Ed Sullivan on prospects for the US cement sector).
Glenn Thibeault, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray, in the Canadian government, spoke of the shift to a new environmental economy in Canada. Building codes are being strengthened and more funding for infrastructure renewal, amounting to five per cent of GDP, has been committed to. Concrete will have an important role to play in this scenario.
Mr Thibeault also spoke of key issues impacting the cement industry in Canada, including the importance placed by the Ontario government on cap-and-trade as a mechanism to meet GHG goals. The government will be consulting industry over the coming months regarding the design of such a system and details regarding allowances. Furthermore, in May 2015, new legislation came into effect in Ontario supporting the use of alternative fuels in cement plants.
Next to address delegates in the opening session was Michael McSweeney, president and CEO of the Cement Association of Canada (CAC), who spoke on the positive role of the cement industry in society. “We have a good story to tell. If we don’t tell it, nobody will,” he argues. He also emphasised the importance of building trust with stakeholders, which is a key objective of the CAC: “Our social licence to operate depends on our ability to respond to the concerns of stakeholders.” Finally, he also addressed the issue of carbon trading, stating his support: “Our environment and economy needs a price on carbon”. However, there is much work to be done on creating the correct regulatory framework, and the cement industry will be active in consultations over the coming months.
Clotilde Rossi di Schio of Turboden presented an example of the organic Rankine cycle waste heat recovery technology, installed at a cement plant in Morocco. Instead of water vapour, the system vaporises a high-molecular mass organic fluid, resulting higher efficiency at temperatures as low as 150˚C.
There was a highly-informative panel discussion on experiences in alternative fuels (AF) for cement production. David Rib of Mitsubishi Cement Corp outlined experiences at the Cushenbury plant in California, which replaces up to 14 per cent of coal consumption with tyres. He bemoaned the huge regulatory burden imposed on cement plants using AF and outlined how cryogenic crushing as a useful technique for sample preparation of tyres and engineers fuels prior to testing.
Alex Guyse of Cemex argued the benefits of CFD modelling for evaluating the technical and economic viability of specific AF projects and to accelerate the permitting process with the authorities.
Jared Weston, FLSmidth, gave a paper on the innovative new system designed for the extraction and hydration of calcined raw meal, used to control sulphur dioxide emissions at St Marys Cement Bowmanville plant. The new system has been proven to drastically reduce SO2 emissions at the stack and will replace the current practice of using purchased hydrated lime, reduce costs and even enable kiln production to increase, creating added savings.
Other important papers included the commended paper on maximising SCM content of blended cements, presented by John Guynn and John Kline, while Alan Finch of Ash Grove Cement explained the use of power-hardening methods to reduce kiln outages caused by power sags.
Carrie Yonley of Trinity Consultants presented a cement industry readiness check for upgraded environmental regulations. Facilities regulated by the new PC MACT 2015 regulations will have to comply by 9 September 2015. Equipment should now be in place for stack testing and plants will have to move to initiate new operational procedures and site-specific emissions monitoring. In practical terms, this means booking stack-testing companies now before it is too late, conducting final awareness training for each department, retiring old MACT limits and preparing for the increased requirements of recordkeeping under the new MACT. Ms Yonley also addressed new CISWI (Commercial and Industrial Solid Waste Incinerators) regulations which will impact from 2018.
Franz Ulm of the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub gave a fascinating presentation on how ‘big data’ is being used to analyse the US road network and yielding insights into material performance with important implications for concrete manufacturers.
Committees at work…
Alongside all the technical presentations, tutorials and exhibition, the IEEE committees were hard at work, meeting to scrutinise legislation and understand its impact on the cement industry. Rick Bohan, Director of Manufacturing Technology of the PCA, told ICR that two of the most significant upcoming regulations are the proposed ozone rule and the redefinition of the term ‘Waters of the United States’ (WOTUS), which could add a new level of environmental compliance, and therefore, cost to the US cement industry. Watch this space.
The exhibition area at IEEE seems to grow larger with each event and this year a total of 155 individual exhibitors participated to create a large trade fair featuring many, if not most, of the companies that serve the North American cement sector. The exhibition is an indispensible resource for anyone investing in new or upgrading existing facilities. From entire cement plants (FLSmidth, Fives Group) to grinding technology providers (Loesche), bulk handling (Claudius Peters, Beumer), emissions control (BWF Envirotec, WL Gore, Redecam), engineering services (Saxum Engineering, River Consulting) and more, all key categories were represented and offered the opportunity to interact with an array of expertise conveniently in one location.
A tour of the St Marys Bowmanville cement plant in Ontario was organised for the last day of the conference. Delegates had the chance to explore the plant, which employs modern emissions control systems, SNCR and was the first cement facility in North America to be awarded the ISO 50001 certification for its energy management. One of the tour highlights was visiting the Pond Biofuels pilot study to use algae to capture CO2 and produce fuel and other high-value products. (For a full plant report, see ICR April 2015.)
The 2016 IEEE-IAS/PCE Cement Conference will be held in Dallas, Texas, on 15-19 May 2016. For more information, visit www.cementconference.org
The unabridged version of this article was first published in International Cement Review International Cement Review, July 2015.