Carbon capture can enable low-carbon cement production

cement productionThere is significant potential for the deployment of carbon capture to drastically cut the amount of CO2 generated in cement production, says Fleming Voetmann, head of Group Sustainability and Communication, FLSmidth

The persistence and ingenuity of engineers around the world holds the answers to the climate crisis. New technological advances have for centuries proven how humankind have been able to adapt and adjust to new challenges. We have seen large scale wind turbines and solar panels replacing coal-based power plants when producing electricity. We have seen electrical cars fast develop into alternatives to traditional diesel-powered engines and hydrogen have emerged as a zero-carbon fuel substitution.

This is also the case of cement production. The cement industry is one of the largest emitters of CO2 globally. Currently, the industry accounts for approximately 7-8 per cent of global carbon emissions. Accepted by all players in the industry, this is not a long-term acceptable situation. And it will change in the years ahead. Already now the current technologies allow for substantial savings in the CO2 emissions using alternative fuels and raw materials. As the industry continues to turn every stone in the quest for additional savings – especially from the deployment of carbon capture, storage and utilization, policymakers must ensure to incentivize the demand for greener cement.

Climate neutral by 2030

With growing populations, a larger middle class, and a transition to greener energy, the demand for cement and minerals – and thus the environmental impact – will only increase in the next decade. In response to this, we launched MissionZero – our pledge to enable zero emissions in the cement and mining industry by 2030. To achieve this, it is critical that we develop technological solutions that will make it possible to operate zero-emissions cement plants and mining processes.

To achieve zero emissions in cement, we must reduce carbon emissions from fuel burning, and slash process emissions related to clinker. Carbon capture is considered one of the key technologies in solving the CO2 emission challenge in hard-to-abate sectors, like cement.

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According to a recent global survey conducted by FLSmidth, acceptance of carbon capture appears to be growing in the cement industry. 85 per cent of respondents now believe at least 10 per cent of plants will currently be running some form of this technology and that it will be standard by 2030. This is a nine per cent increase on last year. Awareness of carbon capture is also growing, with only seven per cent of respondents indicating they didn’t know what carbon capture was, down from 13 per cent last year.

Accelerating deployments for a sustainable future

The idea that companies need to cut their CO2 emissions isn’t a new concept – businesses have been acutely aware of their responsibility to protect the environment for some time. As such, a significant amount of time and effort has been invested in developing new and innovative technologies that reduce the carbon footprint of enterprises operating in some of the most polluting industries – like cement. But uptake to implement these game-changing technologies has been slow. To ensure that the ambitious climate goals of the Paris Climate Agreement are met, businesses must start utilising existing technologies and leveraging them to their full capabilities.

As part of our mission to provide solutions that will make zero-emission cement plants possible by 2030, we recently signed a deal with Heidelberg to collaborate on the world’s first carbon capture installation in cement at their plant in Brevik, Norway.  The current cement plant will be upgraded with new electrostatic precipitator filters that will allow for downstream of CO2 removal. This technology will reduce dust emissions to the low levels required for carbon capture projects and can withstand the high temperatures that are emitted from the flue gasses during cement production.

Given the volume of CO2 emission generated by cement production, traditional carbon capture and storage have historically proved to be expensive and require significant infrastructural and logistical investments. But there has been an acceleration in the developments of carbon capture and utilisation technologies in recent years.

We recently partnered with UK-based company, Carbon8 Systems (C8S) to extend the reach of C8S’s decarbonisation technology within FLSmidth’s global network of customers. C8S’s technology takes CO2 directly from process gasses and combines it with bypass dust from the production to manufacture a lightweight aggregate which can be used in construction.

There is significant potential for these deployments to drastically cut the amount of CO2 generated in cement production. However, companies need to be fully committed to their sustainability goals and be prepared to make changes to traditional processes. Likewise, legislators must ensure that the procurement policies driving the green recovery incentivises the demand for green cement. Much of the technology we need to reduce global CO2 emissions already exists, with the right nudging from governments around the world will encourage the deployment of the solutions needed to achieve the ambitious target of the Paris Agreement.

Fleming Voetmann, head of Group Sustainability and Communication, FLSmidth