Cemex's climate action strategy

 Cemex's climate action strategy
04 December 2020

Cemex hosted its Climate Action webinar on Thursday 3 December 2020. It included an outline of how Cemex was looking to achieve its 2030 roadmap to reduce CO2 emissions and the company's 2050 ambition to deliver net-zero concrete globally.

The panel discussion is the first of several such forums the company aims to host as it commits to the challenge of taking on climate action. "In September 2020, Cemex launched its medium term strategy 'Operation Resilience' in which sustainability assumes a leading role. An achievement of our 2030 carbon goal is a key pillar," said Lucy Rodriguez, who leads Investor Relations at Cemex. "This event stems from the escalation of climate action within our corporate priorities as well as the ground swell of interest in sustainability from financial institutions from the beginning of this year."

Cemex believes companies can achieve a competitive advantage in this period and it is the right thing to do to reduce CO2 emissions over the lifecycle of concrete. Moreover, Cemex sees climate action as a challenge and an opportunity.

Cemex's 2030 goal
In March 2020 Cemex announced its roadmap goal to 2030 to reduce 35 per cent of its CO2 emissions to 520kg CO2/t of cementitious product from the 1990 base level (800kg CO2/t of cementitious product). The main levers to achieve this include alternative fuels (32 per cent), clinker factor (31 per cent), decarbonated raw materials (16 per cent), low-temperature and low-CO2 clinker (16 per cent) and hydrogen injection (five per cent). These levers are the same ones that have enabled the company to reduce its CO2 commissions by 22 per cent today from the 1990 levels. Cemex now aims to accelerate its efforts in Europe and then disseminate this progress throughout its global operations. "The company already has the highest biomass substitution rates amongst its global competitors," said Vincent Saisó, Cemex Head of Global Sustainability.

The roadmap is designed to provide significant opportunities such as a 53 per cent fall in fuel costs, mainly due to the increased use of alternative fuels. In Europe Cemex has increased its alternative fuel use from 53.3 to 60.3 per cent between 2011-September 2020. Co-processing is an important part of the circular economy. The company is paid to burn municipal waste in its kilns in Europe. Cemex believes there will be similar opportunities in other regions as the world transforms to a low-carbon economy.

Cemex also recycles waste from other industries in alternative fuels and raw materials, consuming 32 times the waste Cemex generates and sends to landfill each year. Cemex is aiming to increase this to 35 times the amount reduction by 2030. The combination of clinker factor reduction and alternative fuels make up to 63-65 per cent of Cemex's ability to hit its 35 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030. These are the most important levers for Cemex. "Some plants in Europe are already achieving 80 per cent of fuel needs with alternative fuels," said Mr Saisó.

A reduction in clinker factor will also be helped by the local sourcing of more cementitious materials with active properties, including pozzolans and calcined clay. Further reductions in CO2 will come from a wider use of decarbonated raw materials to reduce process emissions, and the developments of new types of clinker. The use of hydrogen injection also has great potential as a fuel source, as it allows for higher alternative fuel substitution and reduces heat consumption. "To achieve its 2030 carbon emission goal it will cost Cemex approximately US$130m in capex, with most of this expenditure coming in the next five years," claimed Mr Saisó.

While regulatory standards for low-carbon cements will need to evolve in some markets  Cemex is also looking at product innovation with its first net-zero CO2 concrete solution Vertua®. The Vertua® brand consists of a range of low-carbon concrete solutions. The Ultra Zero product is a geopolymer that achieves 70 per cent reduced CO2 emissions while carbon offsets provide the remaining reduction in emissions to reach zero. The UK’s HS2 rail project, which is currently the largest infrastructure project in Europe, will use Vertua@.

Cemex sees a future for cement and concrete but this is a period of transition. The production of cement has to change to reduce carbon emissions. "Currently, 90 per cent of CO2 emissions are in the production of cement and approximately 80 per cent of the emissions are direct – 60 per cent from process emissions and 40 per cent from fuel combustion," said Vincent Saisó. Meanwhile, concrete absorbs up to around 25 per cent of its embodied CO2 process emissions during its life time.

Since 2016, Cemex has included carbon costs as part of its capital allocation decisions. "Consideration of carbon must be an integral element of everything we do," added Juan Romero.

2050 ambition
The bigger goal is to deliver net-zero CO2 concrete by 2050. Davide Zampini, Cemex Head of Global R&D, stressed that Cemex's approach is based on the use of concrete as it offers more ways to deal with carbon over its lifetime. The route to this target will be difficult and will include the use of the same 2030 cement levers (~40 per cent), carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) (~ 34 per cent), concrete technologies (~18 per cent), circular economy initiatives (~four per cent) and reforestation (~four per cent). Some of these technologies are still in embryonic form. Therefore, Cemex sees it essential to develop novel binding technologies with lower CO2 footprints to Portland cement and the circular economy with recycling of aggregates and concrete.

Cemex has already started on this journey working with partners to develop new technology and is encouraging innovation through its R&D department and Cemex Ventures. It is currently participating in approximately 30 projects across its value chain to target zero emissions. This includes 15 CCUS projects, 10 concrete technology programmes and four circular economy projects. These projects include working with companies outside the cement sector that bring their expertise to the initiatives. This collaboration can be seen with:

  • CCUS projects - LEILAC, Carbon Clean, MTR, Synhelion
  • Concrete technologies - Carbon Upcycling, Mineral carbonation, Energy Vault,
  • Circular economy projects - Fast Carb, Arqlite and Recycled aggregate and returned concrete.

Being transparent is also important to Cemex in its sustainability record. Therefore, it publicly reports on all its relevant environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards and is included on five international ESG indexes.

The panel concluded that there are no substitutes for the unique attributes of concrete. Cemex has established a clear roadmap to achieve its 2030 emission goals and the innovation necessary to reach its 2050 ambitions on climate action. Juan Romero said Cemex will work in collaboration with other cement producers and other industries, governments, academia and NGOs to achieve its goals and the company believes it is well-positioned to meet this challenge.

Published under Cement News