Low-carbon transition in the cement industry
Rising global population, urbanization patterns and infrastructure development needs are driving the demand for cement and concrete. Yet, a sustainable transition requires a significant reduction of direct CO2 emissions from the global cement manufacture by 2050 compared to current levels.
Technology has always been a key pillar in the cement industry’s drive to reduce emissions levels and energy consumption. Research and development investments have enabled cement producers worldwide to install modern, energy-efficient technology in new, and to some extent, in existing, cement plants. New technologies have enabled increased use of clinker substitutes and alternative fuels in cement production, leading to significant direct (e.g. from limestone decarbonisation) CO2 emissions reductions. Technology developments have also enabled significant indirect emissions reductions (e.g. from electricity use).
For instance, global cementitious production by companies in the ‘Getting the Numbers Right’ (GNR) increased by 76.9% (from 507 to 897 million tons) between 1990 and 2015, whereas global total net CO2 emissions increased by only 43% (from 383 to 549 million tons).
The main carbon mitigation levers that support the sustainable transition of the cement sector are:
- Improving energy efficiency
- Switching to alternative fuels
- Reducing the clinker to cement ratio
- Integrating emerging and innovative technologies such as carbon capture & storage/utilization (CCS/U)
However, existing technologies alone cannot reduce cement industry CO2 emissions indefinitely. Further dissemination of state-of-the-art technologies to increase thermal energy efficiency and electric energy efficiency and the use of alternative fuels including biomass as well as to reduce clinker content in cement is needed. Moreover, investment in research to develop new binding materials as well as technologies for carbon capture and storage / use (CCS/U) is indispensable. For the cement industry, this means research, development, and piloting of carbon capture technologies in cement plants.
Government and industry must take collaborative action to create a favourable investment framework for accelerating the sustainable transition of the cement industry globally, including creating an enabling, level playing field; putting technological change into action; and facilitating uptake of sustainable products. Collaboration amongst all stakeholders is critical to advance potential technologies from laboratory testing to full-scale dissemination. In 2009, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the WBCSD together developed a first cement industry technology roadmap based on IEA’s modeling and on 38 technology papers developed for the CSI by European Cement Research Academy (ECRA). It outlines existing and potential technologies, and how they may help the industry support a halving of global CO2 emissions across all areas of business and society. It aims to help policy-makers and financial institutions work with the cement industry to adapt for a carbon-constrained world.
In the light of the entry into force of the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2016, the CSI initiated an in-depth review of the 2009 technology papers and delivered in June 2017 a compilation of 52 individual papers on well-known existing technologies (for which the latest development and implementation status is reviewed) and seven additional summary papers describing state-of-the-art and anticipated technological developments that can further enhance mitigation of CO2 emissions in cement production. The report also includes an assessment of the level of possible implementation, the challenges and costs of these technologies in future scenarios for 2030 and 2050.
The fully updated Global Cement Technology Roadmap is officially launched on 6 April. A key finding for all is that realization of the 2 Degree Celsius Scenario (2DS) implies a significant reduction of the global direct CO2 emissions by 24% compared to current levels by 2050, considering the expected increase in global cement production.