Fuel use in the cement industry is partly governed by what is to hand. Though traditional fuels are widely shipped and traded worldwide, it is a question of balancing price and availability for a cost-effective solution. In the US, this has seen some plants switch from coal to natural gas in the wake of the country’s shale boom. In Egypt, the gas shortage has led many companies to invest in coal grinding systems for the sake of energy security. The difficulty is that security and certainty are not one and the same – the future of fuel availability is subject to change, depending on advances in technology, national and multinational regulatory decisions, and of course, new discoveries.
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In August, Italian company Eni announced the discovery of a ‘supergiant’ gas field off the coast of Egypt with the potential to hold some 30 trillion cubic feet of lean gas. That makes it the biggest ever gas find in the Mediterranean Sea and possibly one of the largest in the world. In a statement, Eni said that the find could satisfy Egypt’s natural gas demand for decades. This must have come as a relief to Egypt’s government, which has been struggling with gas supplies for some time, as well as the resultant regular blackouts and a significant slowdown in industry productivity. The problem is multi-faceted: population increases and rising per capita demand have been compounded by a shortage in supplies caused largely by poor decision-making by past governments and the resulting negative relationship between Egypt’s government and its suppliers. Having this new source of gas so close to hand could mean those problems are at an end.
With new coal mills and related systems only just coming online at Egypt’s cement plants, it may look as though the cement industry’s decision to switch to coal was premature. However, with some companies reporting a 30% drop in cement production due to low fuel supplies, it’s clear the industry didn’t have the luxury of choice. Indeed, this seemed to be the theme of the Egypt Coal conference that took place in May this year, where representatives from both the government and Orascom Construction referred to other countries having the ‘luxury’ of alternatives.*
The decision to import coal to Egypt was made in April 2014 after much controversy; this conference showed a change of tune, with the environment minister describing the shift to coal as ‘inevitable’. Speakers emphasised that the image of coal as dirty and polluting belonged to the era of the Industrial Revolution and is not relevant in today’s environment of heavy regulation and new technologies. However, the chances are it will take more than one conference to clean up coal’s image – that’s a battle the coal industry has been fighting for some time.
It’s not yet clear whether any of the gas from the Zohr Prospect will make its way to cement plants, or how long it would take before that might happen. Taking the initiative to plan for alternatives is the smart choice, and even smarter is the fact that Egyptian cement companies are incorporating an element of alternative fuels such as municipal waste into their fuel mix. In this issue, we look at a number of smart alternatives, from taking engineering in house, to waste heat recovery and alternative fuels, as well as offsetting carbon emissions and reducing the clinker factor. Plenty to get you thinking!