In 2011, a cement factory will open in South Kensington, London, UK. In fact, the Novacem industrial pilot plant will be housed on campus at Imperial College. This is where scientists initially developed a cement that is carbon negative as it produces far less CO2 during the manufacturing process but then will actually absorb CO2 from the air.
Now a company created from this research is attempting to make this discovery commercially available. Chairman of Novacem, Stuart M Evans, acknowledges that cement production isn’t a topic that arouses public interest, but believes it deserves more attention: conventional Portland cement already accounts for 5% of global CO2 emissions.
Annual volumes of this type of cement are around 2.5bnt but could double by 2050, says Evans. Standard or Portland cement is made from calcium carbonate and gives off CO2 when heated. Emissions are also generated from the use of energy to fire kilns at 1,450oC. Novacem is produced using magnesium oxide, which does not need to be heated to the same temperatures. It then absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere immediately after production.
Evans claims: "For every tonne of ordinary Portland cement replaced by Novacem, CO2 emissions will be reduced by around 0.75t." There are alternatives to Novacem being developed. Just in the UK alone, Professor Pal Mangat of Sheffield Hallam University is working on Liquid Granite, a powder made from recycled waste materials. Novacem is now pushing to prove its technology on a large scale – firstly with the industrial pilot plant in London, and then a volume production plant in Derbyshire by 2013.
The company has already won UK£1m investment from the Royal Society Enterprise Fund. However, Evans says the next stage is persuading large-scale cement producers worldwide to convert their factories to be able to produce eco-cement. China is key to this as it currently houses 47 per cent of the world cement market. A cornerstone of Evans’ strategy is that Novacem will have "price and performance parity" to traditional cement: "We are not worried about the scientific challenges. It’s just a case of getting companies on board."