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Towards sustainable cement manufacturing: How innovation and technology can help – Times of India

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The author is President and Director, JK Lakshmi Cement Ltd.
Underlining that a well-developed infrastructure network is critical for achieving the USD 5 trillion dream, India is investing heavily on large-scale projects for its economic resilience and unlocking new avenues for investments. The country is growing at a rapid pace by boosting connectivity, strengthening logistics, and coming up with residential and commercial projects to meet its current and future needs. The Centre has already introduced path-breaking development projects such as Bharatmala project, Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, PM Gati Shakti, among others which are acting as growth catalysts. 
However, this infra push comes at a time when concerns are growing around climate change, and thus, making it necessary to ensure this growth is sustainable and has minimum environmental impact. Cement, which is a critical ingredient in all infrastructure projects and backbone of construction is set to witness a massive demand uptick. Thus to find the right balance between economic development and sustainability, greening the cement manufacturing process with innovation and technology becomes crucial. 
At present, India is seeing large-scale infrastructure development and the housing demand in the country is also on a rise. As a result of this, Moody’s predicts that cement production here will climb by around 6-8% over fiscal years 2023 and 2024. A growing housing sector, which typically accounts for 60-65% of India’s cement consumption, will remain a key demand driver. Therefore, the challenge lies in making the cement manufacturing process cleaner, efficient and sustainable with innovation and technology.
Shifting to sustainable cement manufacturing is also the need of the hour as cement production is one of the highest-emitting industries, accounting for 7 percent of global CO2 emissions. It is one of the most widely consumed products globally owing to its various applications spanning from residential to urban constructions which are indispensable for progress. It is thus necessary to swiftly adopt sustainable practices to mitigate environmental impact and support achieving sustainability targets such as becoming net zero by 2070. 
Innovation and technology for greening the cement production in India
The cement manufacturers have to play a dual role– supporting India’s economic growth by meeting the cement demand and contributing to the sustainability mission by ensuring that cement production has minimum impact on the environment This can be achieved with innovative ways, backed by technology. 
For instance, to meet the energy demand sustainably by lowering dependence on carbon-emitting fuels and achieving energy efficiency, the cement makers can utilize strategies such as integrating waste heat recovery systems. This can result in reduction of electricity requirements. Moreover, the manufacturers can invest in high-efficiency coolers and preheaters to minimize kiln heat requirements. The focus must also pivot towards using clean energy from renewable sources like solar or wind energy. Cement manufacturers can develop on-site renewable power generation capabilities to procure clean energy and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. 
The cement makers also need to invest in innovative technologies to reduce their carbon footprint. Today, there are many equipment and processes available to convert waste into fuel which can be incorporated into the manufacturing process as viable alternatives to carbon emitting sources. Also, implementation of carbon capture, utilization and storage methods which involve capturing CO2 emissions and storing them or utilizing them to produce chemicals, concrete or plastics can prove to be a great alternative to utilize waste and promote a circular economy.  
In the current era of digitalization and technological advancements, the companies must accelerate adoption of technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, IoT, data analytics and others to expedite sustainability efforts. This can support optimizing processes, achieving higher efficiency, visibility and control on operations to speed up the decarbonisation journey. 
In order to meet the rising demand for eco-friendly materials, cement manufacturers need to enhance their adoption of circular business models and clean energy practices. This involves rethinking the design of their products, maximizing the utilization of waste resources, and redirecting financial investments to support the transition to environmentally sustainable production methods. By implementing these strategies, cement producers can effectively address the increasing need for sustainable materials.
Amidst increasing demand, the cement industry is standing at a critical juncture where it must address environmental concerns attached with manufacturing such as reducing energy consumption, slashing emissions and becoming more sustainable. The industry must emerge as a key contributor in creating a zero-carbon, cleaner and greener future by leveraging innovation and technology and help India achieve its sustainable development goals faster.
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Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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