Pathways to industry decarbonisation

Pathways to industry decarbonisation
25 September 2020

With major cement producers such as LafargeHolcim declaring their commitment to carbon-neutrality by 2050, Cemtech's first virtual conference "Decarbonising the cement industry - pathways to a sustainable future" on 21-24 September 2020 was perfectly timed. Over 2500 delegates from 110 countries registered for the event, which brought together more than 20 speakers highlighting the latest advances in a wide range of decarbonisation-related topics.

Achievements and pledges towards a decarbonised industry
In the opening presentation, Mahendra Singhi, CEO of Dalmia Bharat Ltd, provided an inspirational start to the conference as he laid out the urgent need for decarbonisation and making the industry more sustainable. He emphasised the importance of choosing the right technology in this journey but was confident on the benefits for the industry: "Soon, there will only be an acceptance for zero carbon transition once the benefits of moving into a deep carbonisation journey start unfolding for the companies who have proactively taken the steps."

Dinah McLeod of the GCCA highlighted the need to position concrete as the sustainable material of choice, supported by the organisation’s pledge to achieve carbon-neutral concrete by 2050. Furthermore, she stated that the role of innovation is absolutely key to achieve an industry that is fit for tomorrow, explaining the part played by the Innovandi network.

Magali Anderson, chief sustainability officer for LafargeHolcim, presented the company’s global strategy for decarbonisation following its important announcement earlier that day that the global cement producer joined the Science-Based Targets initiative "Business Ambition for 1.5˚C, pledging intermediate targets including lowering its CO2 intensity to 475kg net CO2/t of cementitious material. She also highlighted the importance of the circular economy: "Really our pledge today is about climate and I’m talking a lot about CO2, but I think where we have fantastic opportunities is on the circular side…. We really need to show the world we are more circular. Concrete is a 100 per cent circular product and I’m not sure many people know about that. At the end of the life of a building, once we demolish it we can reuse and put it straight in our cement or in our concrete."

Implementation of sustainable technologies
During the conference cement producers and equipment suppliers shared examples of the application of sustainable technologies in cement plants. Mauricio Giraldo of Argos Cement in Colombia explained how his company had significantly improved the alternative fuel (AF) substitution in its Colombian plants, while Stanislaw Sobczyk of LafargeHolcim in Poland showcased best-in-class AF utilisation at the Kujawy plant, where substitution rates are close to 90 per cent.

Clinker reduction was explored in detail with two presentations focussing on the technologies for calcined clay, with expert Steven Miller, FLSmidth (Denmark) and Luiz Felipe de Pinho, Dynamis (Brazil) both showcasing state-of-the-art technologies in this emerging area and case studies from recent projects.

From India, Atul Priyadarshi, Bharathi Cement, part of Vicat Group, shared an account of its renewable energy journey including waste heat recovery and solar power.

Pathways to improvement
Energy and process optimisation also remain part of the solutions to lower CO2 emissions, and several presentations identified proven technologies that could be deployed now in plants. Jens Breidenbach, KHD (Germany) revealed how upgrading existing ball mills with highly-efficient roller press-based grinding circuits can provide significant gains in CO2 reduction for cement companies.

Digitalisation of the industry is also providing further opportunities to improve the industry’s environmental performance through better data collection and decision-making. Javier García Sedano, CEO of Spain-based Optimitive, focussed on the application of artificial intelligence in the cement production process. "We propose to apply artificial intelligence connected in real-time to the cement process, reading the data, learning from that data and applying optimal settings at all times in automatic-pilot mode in closed loop or open loop and in this way achieving optimum performance at all times," Mr García Sedano said.

Dr Paul Flachskampf of INFORM emphasised the importance of CO2 reduction efforts in logistics and transport, pointing out that the delivery of two truck loads of cement will generate emissions equal to the CO2 released in producing one ton of cement. Optimisation of logistics is therefore a crucial area of focus for all cement companies, and can be achieved most successfully using AI and machine learning software to optimise truck fleets.

A look into the future
In terms of the industry's commitment to decarbonise and improve its sustainability record going forward, Cemtech speakers provided a number of insights.

Jim O'Brien of Jim O’Brien CSR (Ireland) examined whether the cement industry was indeed walking the sustainability talk: he concluded that while great progress had been made, advances had slowed in recent years and the pace now needs to pick up. There remained room for improvement, particularly in the area of safety despite recent advances.

Tony Hadley, THAA (EU), urged a shift in culture from complacency and compliance to leadership in industrial excellence. The industry needs to be fully carbon reformed by 2040 – not 2050, he argued. Moreover, those companies that fail to show they are moving in the right direction will be penalised by investors and society.

Ultimately, the industry needs more research, pilot- and industrial-scale trials to push ahead in decarbonising its operations. Communication with all stakeholders and the creation of alliances with technology providers, research institutes and universities will be key in fostering innovation and achieving the successful implementation of these new technologies. This is particularly true in the area of carbon capture, storage and reuse, one of the most important pathways to meaningful large-scale carbon reduction.

Jan Theulen of HeidelbergCement (Germany) outlined the company's carbon neutrality strategy and the part played by its cutting-edge carbon capture technology research and investments, including the LEILAC2 project. Dr Laury Barnes-Davin of Vicat (France) made a case for carbonated aggregate production while Mirko Weber and Joseph Kitzweger of LafargeHolcim put the spotlight on Austria’s C2PAT initiative, which aims to capture CO2 from LafargeHolcim’s Mannersdorf cement plant in Austria and process it with renewable-based hydrogen to produce hydrocarbons for products such as plastics or kerosene.

Investment will be key in the implementation of the industry’s initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint – a fact not lost by Eric Trusiewicz, Breakthrough Energy Ventures (USA & Spain), who explained the interest by cleantech venture capital in investing in low-carbon technologies in the cement industry.

As Mr Singhi said at the start of the conference: "Now it's time for cement companies and its professionals to dream big, aim big, plan big and create a roadmap for carbon-free cement. Ultimately we have to convert our sector from grey to green."

Conference proceedings, including handouts and on-demand recordings, are available on demand. To access, please subscribe to International Cement Review

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Tagged Under: Cemtech decarbonisation