It has been a busy week for carbon capture in the cement sector with Global Cement covering five stories. However, increasingly, the topic has become a regular feature in the press as the industry bends to the demands of the carbon agenda. This week’s selection is notable because three of the stories cover North America.
Holcim US announced that it is working with Ohio State University and GTI Energy to design, build and test engineering-scale membrane carbon capture technology at the Holly Hill cement plant in South Carolina. The information builds on an earlier release from the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) in late December 2023 about the project. It has a total budget of US$9m, with US$7m supplied by the DOE. It plans to build a 3t/day CO2 capture unit that uses a method intended to retain 95 – 99% of CO2 from cement kiln gas with a purity exceeding 95%. The new information at this stage is that GTI Energy is involved. Specifically, it will support the development of the pilot skid for site deployment.
The other two stories from North America are worth noting because they both concern commercial equipment or technology suppliers joining up to work together. First, 10 companies – Biomason, Blue Planet Systems, Brimstone, CarbonBuilt, Chement, Fortera, Minus Materials, Queens Carbon, Sublime Systems, and Terra CO2 – announced they were launching the Decarbonized Cement and Concrete Alliance (DC2). The group’s principal aim is to lobby the US government toward using new low-carbon cement and concrete products in public infrastructure. It also intends to look at advocacy and public sector engagement including expanded tax credits, development of standards for novel cements, consistent ecolabeling and accounting, and customer demand support. DC2 was formally launched in January 2024 but it follows previous work by the companies in the area. The other related story was a memorandum of understanding that Aker Carbon Capture and MAN Energy Solutions have also signed this week to jointly pursue opportunities related to carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) and CO2 compression in the North American market. These two companies have worked on the full-scale CCUS unit at Norcem’s Brevik cement plant, which is due to be commissioned later in 2024. They are likely intending to capitalise on the publicity that is likely to be generated once it officially starts up.
Back in North America the DC2 Alliance noted in its press release the DOE’s release of its Pathways to Commercial Liftoff: Low-Carbon Cement report in September 2023. Although it is similar to many other varied sector roadmaps, including the Portland Cement Association’s Road to Net Zero that was released in 2021, this document is well worth reading due to its details and local market context. The headline figure, for example, is that following a set of pathways to fully decarbonise the US cement industry would cost US$60 – 120bn by 2050. Doing so would involve reducing the clinker factor, improving energy efficiency, increased use of alternative fuels, using CCUS, using alternative feedstocks and adopting alternatives to traditional cement production methods.
Graph 1: US active cement kilns by capacity and age. Source: PCA survey data used in Department of Energy Pathways to Commercial Liftoff: Low-Carbon Cement report.
One other interesting tidbit to consider from the report is an analysis of the age of the US cement sector’s kilns versus their production capacity as shown in Graph 1 above. The largest 10 kilns in the country account for 22% of the country’s total capacity and these were all built after 2000. Then, the next 44% of the national capacity comes from 38 kilns out of a total of 120 kilns at 98 cement plants. The report itself does not make this assertion but the implication is that retrofitting CCUS units at one third of the country’s clinker lines would capture the CO2 being emitted from two-thirds of the sector’s production capacity. This is not to say that this could actually work technically, logistically or economically. Yet seeing the scale of the challenge presented in this way is fascinating and one starts to have thoughts about how a retrofit roll-out of CCUS units might actually be approached.
Whether the cement sector adopts CCUS at scale remains to be seen but demonstration projects are definitely coming in both Europe and North America. The DOE report from September 2023 suggests that decarbonisation will cost a lot of money. No surprises there and, as ever, there is rather less detail on who will actually pay for this. One thing that might help here, that the DOE report mentions frequently, is the 45Q carbon capture tax credit scheme, which was introduced by the Trump administration in 2020. Regardless of the potential bill for consumers of cement though, the suppliers are clearly taking note of the investment potential as evidenced by all the non-cement plant CCUS news stories this week.