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Opportunities & Challenges For UK Cement

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World Cement,

Dr Diana Casey, Mineral Products Association, gives an overview on the current state of the British cement industry and what benefits and hurdles lie ahead for operators in the UK.

There are six cement manufacturers in the UK that produce around 9 million t of cement each year across 10 kiln sites, two grinding plants, and two blending plants. Many of the kiln sites provide vital employment in rural or isolated locations. Four out of the six companies have international parent companies that are headquartered outside of the UK.

At its peak in the 1970s, the sector produced around 20 million t of cement. The most recent peak in production was in 2007 when 12 million t were produced. On top of domestic production, a further 3.3 million t of cement is imported. Imports have steadily grown since around 2001 and in 2021 made up 26.6% of the UK cement market.

The sector is represented through the Mineral Products Association (MPA), which covers 100% of UK cement production as well as many other mineral products sectors such as concrete, lime, aggregates, asphalt, dimension stone, and silica sand. Working as a sector lends a stronger voice to discussions with governments and other stakeholders on all aspects of regulation and legislation affecting the sector: from health and safety to environmental permitting, energy efficiency, and climate change. The MPA vision of ‘Driving Change, Raising Standards and Improving Perceptions’ is delivered through seven strategic priorities covering:

  • Health and safety
  • People
  • Resource use
  • Climate change and energy
  • Natural environment
  • Built environment
  • Communicating industry value

Although all these aspects are important, for the energy- and carbon-intensive cement sector the key priority is to contribute to the UK’s decarbonisation targets by reducing emissions, whilst maintaining competitiveness and growing the market for concrete. The MPA facilitates this by representing the whole UK cement and concrete supply chain.

Decarbonisation to date

UK cement producers have invested millions of pounds in new, more efficient plants and equipment, moving away from fossil fuels and producing low-carbon cements, including using supplementary cementitious materials (SCM). This has resulted in an absolute emissions reduction of 53% in 2018 compared to 1990. This rate of decarbonisation is faster than the UK as a whole, which saw a 43% reduction over the same period. The remaining emissions are technically and financially challenging to reduce.

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UK cement news