The potential of hydrogen in decarbonising cement

The potential of hydrogen in decarbonising cement
27 August 2021

This week, we take a look at the significant role hydrogen is expected to play in the cement sector's route to decarbonisation.

Two kinds of hydrogen are set to be used by industry as a fossil fuel replacement, but each has its own set of challenges and benefits, with 'green hydrogen' and 'blue hydrogen' referring to the different methods of its production.

For it to be classed as 'green', the hydrogen needs to be generated through a water electrolysis process, which is itself powered by a renewable source (wind, solar or hydropower). Within the cement manufacturing process, the hydrogen could then used as renewable-based fuel. An example is the Carbon2ProductAustria (C2PAT) scheme that sees synergy between several partners to produce a renewable-based hydrocarbon, such as methanol or kerosene. For this, Verbund, Austria’s largest power supplier, performs electrolysis on renewable electricity to generate hydrogen while carbon is simultaneously captured from Holcim’s Mannersdorf plant. The resulting hydrocarbon from these two sources is then refined by OMV to produce a fuel that can sustainably power a further industrial project.

However, it takes time to set up these industrial clusters and investment is needed from many different sources to obtain the required process equipment, with the obvious outcome being that green hydrogen is more expensive to produce than conventional fuels. As a result, subsidies are being put into place. The UK government has recently announced a series of industry consultations to help launch a subsidy system that would support hydrogen projects to decarbonise areas that cannot run on electricity.

In response, the UK's Mineral Products Association (MPA) has welcomed the development of a low-carbon hydrogen economy but has warned that the costs of production, transmission and distribution of hydrogen need to be shared by the country’s entire economy. It noted that the energy-intensive cement industry should not be unduly penalised by the extra costs associated with hydrogen production.

Any subsidy is also likely to support the production of blue hydrogen. Whereas green hydrogen is derived from renewable sources, blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas and results in the emission of CO2, which would then need to be captured via carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS). Therefore, while blue hydrogen projects may be able to get off the ground faster, there has been notable concern over the potential for more carbon emissions to be released through this process.

Looking ahead, projects such as Hanson's hydrogen demonstration unit at its Port Talbot GGBS works and its partnership with the HyNet North West consortium, an industrial cluster set to reduce CO2 emissions by 10Mt by 2030 through CCS technology and clean hydrogen power, are all successful leaps forward for the cement sector’s route to decarbonisation.

Cembureau, the European cement association, has also noted that a feasibility study is underway to understand the effects of hydrogen use in a cement kiln. Understanding the potential effects of hydrogen use on the cement production process, alongside considerations towards the geographic and cost viability of industrial clusters, are all necessary steps towards its widespread utilisation.

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Published under Cement News