Lafarge’s cement plant in Bath, Ontario, is aggressively pursuing carbon emission reduction strategies through the planting of multiple energy crops that may eventually replace a portion of the 110,000t of coal and petcoke the plant requires as fuel each year.
“We recognize that our industry (cement) represents five per cent of the world carbon emissions,” said Robert Cumming, Lafarge environmental and public affairs manager. “There’s also a very high demand for our products, for example, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings use a lot of cement.” When initially embarking on the project, Lafarge had an agreement with biotechnology start-up firm Performance Plants, which provided its seed trait technologies for the planting of switchgrass, little bluestem, hemp, sorghum and tropical maize.
Financial restraints forced Performance Plants to pull out of the project, according to Cumming, but Lafarge is still moving forward with its previous plans. Last year, Lafarge began a multiyear life-cycle assessment study with Kingston, Ontario-based Queen’s University’s Energy and Environmental Policy Institute, and has been working closely with researchers on planting trials of perennial crops, utilizing about 2,500 acres of land surrounding the cement plant.
Previously, Lafarge rented the land for agricultural purposes, but it was turned back over to the company when farmers could no longer use it. “Eastern Ontario doesn’t have a very good agriculture industry because it doesn’t host much class 1 and 2 land, mostly class 3 and 4, so biomass crops are a good fit here,” Cumming said.