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Tackling the climate challenge – part one

World Cement,

While the COP21 in Paris has given a remarkable push forward to climate change mitigation, the cement industry has been working for several decades to minimise its environmental footprint - with CO2-abatement being an absolute top-priority.

HeidelbergCement is one of the founding members of the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI), one of the largest global sustainability programs ever undertaken by a single industry sector.

Climate protection has been a key issue since the inception of the CSI – under the auspices of the World Business Council of Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

In 2009, the CSI developed a cement technology roadmap in collaboration with the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the WBCSD. The roadmap identifies existing and potential technologies to achieve significant emissions reductions in the cement sector by 2050. It also guides the cement industry on its way to achieve substantial emissions reductions and likewise shows the value of collaboration and partnership between the key players of the industry.

The roadmap emphasises that large-scale development and deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage/Utilisation (CCS/U) capabilities and technologies are crucial in order to meet the defined CO2 reduction target. Traditional levers of reducing CO2 emissions in cement production include thermal and electric efficiency, use of alternative fuels and biomass, and clinker substitution. However, these traditional levers can only reduce emissions from cement production to a certain extent. The mitigation of process emissions from the calcination of limestone, which make up approximately 60% of the cement sector’s CO2 emissions, demands the large-scale application of CCS/CCU technologies to achieve a fully decarbonised cement production. The Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative (LCTPi) for cement, which HeidelbergCement signed in 2015 together with 17 other cement companies, reconfirmed the ambitions of the roadmap. Based on a multi-tiered action plan, the initiative aims at global CO2 emissions reductions of 20 – 25% in addition to ‘Business as Usual’ by 2030.

Currently the cement industry is acting largely in the shadow of the huge power sector. The emissions of the power sector are still the focus of political and societal action regarding climate change, as the industry emits up to 10 times more CO2 into the atmosphere than the global cement industry altogether. Yet, as the power sector is now – driven by governmental policy and support – rapidly increasing the share of renewable energy in the overall energy mix, the cement industry will be in the full spotlight due to its high amount of process emissions.

To anticipate this, HeidelbergCement has invested in its own initiatives and engages in intensive collaboration with sector-partners such as the European Cement Research Academy (ECRA) to mitigate climate change.

Capturing, storing, and utilising carbon is inevitable

Capturing carbon from cement kiln flue gas is technically feasible, as several research projects have already shown. For downstream processing there are two main options available – storage/sequestration (CCS) or utilisation (CCU).

HeidelbergCement considers CCS inevitable to reach the worldwide targets as defined in the cement technology roadmap published in 2009. The technology is in principle ready to be applied, but it is currently not economically feasible, as sufficient regulatory frameworks are lacking (e.g. EU CCS Directive), public support is weak in several countries, and carbon prices are too low to incentivise investment. In cases where CO2 injection is supporting the extraction of oil or gas, CCS is today already commercially viable and one can see large scale applications such as the Boundary Dam project operated by SaskPower in Saskatchewan Canada.

While in Scandinavia and Canada CCS is generally accepted, in the UK it is not yet at that stage. In the European mainland countries, such as Germany, the public acceptance of underground storage is currently lacking, though offshore storage seems to be more accepted, but possibilities for developing storage facilities are quite limited.

While CCS offers the potential to deal with CO2 in volumes of millions of t per year, CCU-applications focus on smaller volumes in the range of 10 000 or 100 000 tpy. Some applications are already commercially applied today others will follow soon, more or less independent from current low CO2 prices. The limiting factors for CCU-applications are, besides economic parameters, land and water availability or the size of downstream markets.

It is clear that both CCS and CCU need to be developed in parallel as a whole range of solutions will have to be implemented by 2050. It is also clear that CCS will be the major technology to achieve decarbonisation of the cement sector in the long-term, while CCU is a commercially viable solution to reduce emissions significantly in the meantime.

This is part one of a three-part article written for World Cement’s May issue and abridged for the website. Subscribers can read the full May issue by signing in, and can also catch up on-the-go via our new app for Apple and Android. Non-subscribers can access a preview of the April 2016 issue here.

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