World Cement talks with Martin Schneider, Managing Director of the European Cement Research Academy (ECRA) about his career, the challenges facing the cement industry – and the historical figure he would most like to meet.
Describe your job in a sentence.
Together with ECRA’s Chairman, Daniel Gauthier, and the ECRA Technical Advisory Board, it is my job to make sure that ECRA addresses the right issues and continues to make good progress in joint research and innovation.
How did you start in the cement industry?
Purely by chance, VDZ in Düsseldorf was looking for someone to research the impact of NOX on the environment. As a laser physicist by profession, I had some experience with NOX detection, but in much lower concentrations than those seen in the exhaust gas of cement kilns. VDZ hired me anyway and since then I’ve been working in the cement industry for 26 years.
In your view, what is the biggest challenge facing the cement industry?
There are quite a few challenges at a regional level but, at a global level, CO2 is certainly of very high importance. Cement is needed in huge amounts all over the globe in order to enable economic and social development. There is no material today that could realistically replace even small quantities of it.
What strategies can the industry employ to solve this challenge?
The cement industry will proceed with the well-known methods to reduce CO2, namely reducing the clinker factor, the use of alternative fuels with corresponding biomass content, and the further improvement of energy efficiency. In addition, breakthrough technologies, such as carbon capture, could develop in the future. For this reason, ECRA started examining carbon capture in the cement industry in depth seven years ago and is now ready to launch a carbon capture project on an industrial scale.
What’s next for ECRA?
Since ECRA was founded 15 years ago, we have built up a high level of recognition – not only within the cement industry but also with various stakeholders. We will continue to initiate pre-competitive research and identify areas in which the cement industry can become more innovative. Besides carbon capture, ECRA has addressed the subject of future grinding technologies. Based on a comprehensive brainstorming session among ECRA members, we are now facilitating research at various universities in order to build up respective research capacities in this field.
Tell us something we may not know about ECRA?
ECRA is a research platform for the cement industry, its associations, equipment suppliers, and research organisations. Everyone cooperating with ECRA is doing so on a voluntary basis and is interested in contributing towards innovation in a pre-competitive way. Meetings at ECRA are therefore always very constructive and very enjoyable, and there is a willingness to develop visions for the cement industry, which of course then have to be broken down into realistic approaches.
What are you listening to or reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. It clearly underlines how we can harness the enormous potential benefits of today’s technology, while at the same time it is a wake-up call, stressing the need to establish clear rules on how algorithms in our data-driven world can be used responsibly.
If you could meet any historical figure, who would you meet – and why?
I would like to meet Alexander von Humboldt, the great German naturalist. Through his readiness to learn and to share his findings he was able to build bridges among many people in a peaceful and supportive way. I’m sure his enthusiasm and his willingness to never stop learning would be an inspiration.
Do you have a final message for the industry?
Cement is a fantastic material. It might not be immediately visible in people’s daily lives, but our planet would look very different without it. I think that all of us who work in the cement industry and along its value chain should be proud of our product and its importance for the world.
About Martin Schneider: In addition to his role at the European Cement Research Academy (ECRA), Martin Schneider is Chief Executive of the VDZ and Head of VDZ’s Research Institute. He holds a PhD from the Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Bonn. Since 2009 he is an Honorary Professor at the Technical University of Clausthal.
Read the article online at: https://www.worldcement.com/special-reports/12062018/five-minutes-with-martin-schneider/
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