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China makes progress in greening its industries

World Cement,

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has released the report ‘China’s Green Long March: A Study of Renewable Energy, Environmental Industry and Cement Sectors’, which outlines China’s progress and efforts in developing renewable energy technologies and greening its industries, including the cement sector.

Cement industry

Greening the cement sector is an important task for China in its transition to a green economy as the industry outputs a high level of GHG emissions and contributes to local air and water pollution. Chinese cement companies have already successfully increased the energy efficiency of production and reduced the amount of other pollutants emitted. Despite these efforts, further investment (approximately RMB280 million) is required to lessen the environmental impacts of the sector due to high levels of growth. The rising demand for infrastructure, particularly for housing and transport, means that the demand for cement will continue to grow. The investment will help to maintain production capacity while cutting CO2 emissions by 45%.

Environmental measures taken by China

Energy efficiency

Energy efficiency in the cement industry has increased rapidly in recent years due to extensive regulatory measures. Energy consumption per unit of industrial value added output fell by 41% from 2005 to 2010. Over 40 directives have been issued on greening the cement industry, including strict regulations on efficiency requirements of new power plants to ensure that old technologies are gradually phased out. During China’s 11th Five Year Plan (2006 – 2010), 1000 facilities were closed despite production increasing by 80%.

Cement production

China’s cement production is the largest in the world. In 2011, the level of production was 2.06 billion t, accounting for approximately 60% of global cement output. The production of cement in China contributes to over 2% of global emissions.

There has been significant investment into greener methods of cement production. In 2002, 16.8% of plants used dry process kilns, with most using more inefficient wet process rotary or vertical kilns. To date, more than 89% of plants use dry process kilns, replacing 150 million t of inefficient production capacity. Furthermore, since 2006 a large number of small inefficient plants have been phased out. During the 11th Five Year Plan (2006 – 2010), the country phased out 250 million t of backward production capacity.

Waste heat recovery (WHR)

Investment into waste heat recovery (WHR) has also been high. Cogeneration units, which trap the waste heat from the production process and reuse it into useful energy, were installed on 692 new dry process kiln production lines. These projects significantly reduce plant emissions, with a 7.5 MW installation reducing almost 50 000 t of CO2 a year.

Regulating emissions

Regulatory measures have also been imposed to reduce pollution. In 2005, standards were set for the regulation of N02 emissions, which were in line with international standards in developing countries. However, a lack of fiscal incentives or pollution taxes means firms are not willing to invest in reducing their pollution levels.

Future plans for China’s green cement sector

During the country’s 12th Five Year Plan, China aims to eliminate 250 million t of cement capacity and increase the industry concentration ratio to 35%.

Energy efficiency

Compared to Western and Japanese firms, Chinese cement producers remain behind with regard to energy efficiency. The average energy consumption of new dry process kiln production lines in China is 15% – 25% higher than the international average.

Energy efficiency projects are key, but cement companies need to have better access to credit to finance these projects. Small cement firms do not usually have the necessary credit available to fund long-term energy projects. The government must encourage the growth of investment products that support energy efficiency.

Alternative fuels

Chinese cement manufacturers use fewer alternative fuels than those in the West. Waste materials such as flyash, calcium carbide slag and construction waste can be used to replace clinker, reducing the energy input required to produce a unit of cement.


More investment is required to reduce emissions in the cement sector. The industry accounts for about 10% of China’s national nitrous oxide (NOX) emissions and current regulations and incentives have not proved effective at reducing pollution. Denitration technology can help to reduce NOX emissions, however it is very expensive, costing between RMB20 – 40/t of production to install. There are very few cheaper alternatives for denitration technologies, meaning that NOX emissions in the industry remain high.

Reducing demand

The cement industry has grown due to increases in demand for housing and transport infrastructure. Demand also needs to be reduced through regulations such as improved building standards. The country plans to extend the average lifetime of buildings in order to reduce cement demand by millions of tonnes. Buildings typically have a service life of only thirty years. The country may also consider constructing smaller living areas in order to reduce demand for cement.

Extracts from UNEP’s ‘China’s Green Long March: A Study of Renewable Energy, Environmental Industry and Cement Sectors’ report. Read the full report here.

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