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Reducing CO2 emissions while producing enough cement to meet demand will be challenging. Demand growth is expected to resume as the slowdown in Chinese activity is offset by expansion in other markets. Moreover, the emissions intensity of production has increased since 2015, largely due to a higher global clinker-to-cement ratio – although the rate of increase has been slowing more recently.
Key strategies to cut carbon emissions in cement production include improving energy efficiency, switching to lower-carbon fuels, promoting material efficiency (to reduce the clinker-to-cement ratio and total demand), and advancing innovative near zero emission production routes. The latter two contribute the most to direct emission reductions in the Net Zero Scenario. Aligning with that scenario will require the development and deployment of technology that is not currently available.
In the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario, global cement production stays relatively flat to 2030. Adopting material efficiency strategies to optimise the use of cement can help reduce demand along the entire construction value chain, helping to cut CO2 emissions from cement production. CCS is also likely to play a critical role in decarbonising cement; alternatives might involve making clinkers from non-carbonate sources to avoid these emissions altogether.
The main challenge facing the cement industry is reducing CO2 emissions at the same time as meeting global demand. Developing economies’ infrastructural needs require the global development and deployment of new emission reduction technologies for the sector.
The direct CO2 emissions intensity of cement production has been broadly flat over the last five years, and is estimated to have increased slightly (by 1%) in 2022. In contrast, annual CO2 intensity declines of 4% through to 2030 are required for the sector to get on track with the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) Scenario. Reduction of the clinker-to-cement ratio through the uptake of clinker substitutes, continuous energy efficiency improvements, adoption of low-carbon fuels, material efficiency improvements, and deployment of innovative technologies, such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), will play a significant role in achieving this goal.
Major policy developments of the last year hold promise for reducing emissions from the cement sector and increasing public procurement of low-carbon concrete
Countries and regions making important notable progress in decarbonising cement production include the following:
Cement emissions remain stubbornly high – the development and deployment of new technologies is essential to get on track with the NZE Scenario
Cement emissions intensity has remained relatively stable since 2018, at just under 0.6 t CO2 per tonne of cement produced, following several years of modest increase largely due to an increasing clinker-to-cement ratio in China.
To get on track with the NZE Scenario, emissions must fall by an average of 3% annually through to 2030. Energy and material efficiency improvements, adoption of low-carbon fuels, clinker substitution and innovative near zero emissions production routes will be key to achieving this objective. The development and deployment of technologies not currently commercially available will also be required, with investment being critical to ensure these technologies are available at scale within the near term.
The thermal energy intensity of clinker must continue to decrease – expansion of bioenergy and hydrogen will be critical for aligning with the Net Zero by 2050 Scenario
From 2010 to 2020, the average thermal energy intensity of clinker decreased by 0.2% annually and has since remained relatively flat at about 3.6 GJ/t clinker. This decrease was alongside an increase in the sector’s electricity intensity, which reached around 100 kWh/t cement in 2022. The NZE Scenario sees average thermal energy and electricity intensities reach less than 3.4 GJ/t clinker and 90 kWh/t cement, respectively, by 2030, excluding additional energy required for the deployment of emission reduction technologies such as carbon capture, which come with a penalty in terms of thermal fuels and electricity consumption. For example, CCUS technologies add around 5 kWh/t cement to the global average electricity intensity.
Fossil fuels continued to be the main source of thermal energy for the sector (90% share) in 2022, followed by bioenergy and renewable waste (4%) and non-renewable waste (4%). The adoption of low carbon fuels is key to reduce the share of fossil fuels to 79% and non-renewable waste to 3% by 2030 in line with the NZE Scenario, which sees bioenergy and renewable waste increasing to 16% and hydrogen to 2% of the total thermal energy share.
Cement production levels have stabilised in line with the NZE Scenario, which sees this trend continuing through material efficiency policies
Cement production declined significantly in 2022, down 5% to 4 158 Mt. But this number hides contrasting regional trends. Despite the decrease in production in China (-10.5% year-on-year), as a result of the country’s real estate crisis and policies to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, China remains the leading global cement producer, representing 51% of global production.
India strengthened its position as the second largest cement producer in 2022, with the country’s share of global production rising from 8% in 2021 to 9%. Over the longer-term, declining production in China is expected to be offset by production increases in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa to meet their development needs.
Global cement production must stay relatively flat through to 2030 to align with the NZE Scenario. Material efficiency strategies, such as resource-efficient manufacturing, promoting material efficiency in construction by avoiding overdesign and maximising the lifetimes of buildings and infrastructure, are critical to reducing cement demand.
Use of clinker substitutes is increasing, but clinker-to-cement ratio reduction alone is insufficient under the NZE Scenario, signalling a need for new technologies
Emissions from manufacturing clinker – the main component of cement – result from chemical reactions and fuel combustion in the process. Measures to reduce emissions include reduction of the clinker-to-cement ratio through the adoption of supplementary cement materials (SCMs), adoption of low-carbon fuels, and capture of residual CO2 emissions.
The global clinker-to-cement ratio1 has increased at an annual average of 1.1% since 2015, from 0.66 increasing to 0.71 in 2022. This number hides significantly different regional trends. China, despite having one of the lowest clinker-to-cement ratios globally, saw an increase from 0.57 in 2015 to 0.65 in 2022. In contrast, countries with high ratios such as the United States and Canada have decreased their ratios from 0.90 and 0.87 in 2015, respectively, to 0.89 and 0.86 in 2022. To align with the NZE Scenario the ratio must decrease 1.2% annually to a global average of 0.65 by 2030. To enable this, it will likely be necessary to revise standards such as building codes in some regions, to focus on performance of concrete rather than prescriptive composition-based requirements, while considering regional circumstances and ensuring robust safety requirements are met.
Even considering a greater uptake of SCMs, the release of CO2 from the calcination of limestone during clinker production using conventional techniques means that other technologies, such as CCS, are needed. The NZE Scenario envisages an increase in the capacity of CCS to 170 Mt in 2030.
1 It should be also noted that, in some countries, material substitution occurs during concrete manufacturing rather than in cement production. For such cases, clinker-to-binder ratio might be a more complete metric. However, robust regional data on the clinker-to-binder ratio is currently not available.
Low-carbon innovation – such as carbon capture and storage or electric kilns – continues, with technologies in material efficiency and cement recycling also emerging
Innovative emissions reduction strategies from the past few years include:
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Significant investment in CO2 transport and storage infrastructure is required to get the sector on track with the NZE Scenario
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) plays a major role in meeting the cement sector emissions reductions required to get on track with the NZE Scenario. Action by governments to deploy supporting infrastructure for CO2 transport and storage is critical to avoid delays to the implementation of new technologies. It will be important for governments to reform permitting processes to avoid delays and to work with stakeholders to ensure public support for construction of new infrastructure.
Pipelines are expected to remain the preferred infrastructure for CO2 transport. Countries with oil and gas infrastructure could investigate the feasibility of repurposing pipelines for CO2 transport, thus avoiding stranded assets as fossil fuel use declines.
Several countries are adopting roadmaps for the decarbonisation of the cement industry, but avoiding carbon leakage will require co-operation between advanced and developing economies
Many states have introduced policies addressing industrial emissions, which are covered in detail under industry tracking. Important developments for cement include:
View all cement policies
Despite the strong increase in international collaboration between cement producers’ associations and governments, collaboration with and among emerging economies must continue to grow
Following publication of the 2050 Net Zero Roadmap, GCCA launched a series of Net Zero Accelerator initiatives across four countries (India, Egypt, Thailand and Colombia) representing 10% of global cement and concrete production. The first phase of this initiative will focus on efforts to decarbonise the sector across the global south, a key priority given the increasing demand for cement for infrastructure in developing countries. Phase 2 countries will be announced soon.
Launched during COP26 in 2021, the Breakthrough Agenda defined a plan to accelerate the decarbonisation of five sectors (power, road transport, steel, hydrogen and agriculture) through a package of 25 collaborative actions to be delivered by COP28 in 2023. The Agenda has been endorsed by 47 countries to date, including G7 and EU countries, India, Egypt, Morocco, Australia, Cambodia and Canada. The Agenda’s Industrial Decarbonisation Initiative consists of a coalition of governments and private sector institutions focusing efforts first on steel (in progress), cement and concrete (to be covered by the Cement and Buildings Breakthroughs planned for launch in 2023).
Industry associations and private companies are taking clear steps towards achieving the goal of a net-zero cement industry by 2050
At COP27 in 2022, First Movers Coalition’ members – a group of companies with high purchasing power, pursuing decarbonisation of seven emission-intensive sectors through the creation of early markets for innovative clean technologies – committed to “purchasing at least 10% (by volume) of cement/concrete per year as near-zero cement/concrete inclusive of any SCMs by 2030 and excluding fossil-based SCMs by 2035”.
Similarly, the Climate Group’s Concrete Zero initiative, launched in 2022, brings together leading businesses to create a market for near zero-concrete, with members committing to using 30% low-emission concrete by 2025 and 50% by 2030. The Group defines low-emission concrete as having an embodied carbon intensity below a threshold linked to the concrete specified strength class: for the lowest strength class, concrete is considered low-emission if its embodied carbon sits below 100 kg CO2eq/m3 , while for the strongest class, it must be inferior to 270 kg CO2eq/m3 .
In 2021, the GCCA and the World Economic Forum launched Concrete Action for Climate, a coalition of organisations supporting the delivery of net-zero concrete by 2050. The initiative seeks to ensure that both supply and manufacturing are in line with global climate goals, to help design and advocate for appropriate policy levers to stimulate demand for low-carbon cement and concrete, and to incentivise circularity in the sector.
Other programmes in place to help improve energy efficiency in cement production include the Plant Evaluation Gap Analysis and Support Service (PEGASUS) Programme of the World Cement Association and the GCCA GNR (Getting the Numbers Right) reporting database for use in benchmarking. Others still, such as the GCCA’s Innovandi programmes, target innovation.
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Last update on 11 July 2023
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Decarbonisation of the cement sector requires active engagement from policy makers, including through:
Cement sector decarbonisation would benefit from:
Net zero targets for other heavy industries have resulted in reduced availability of traditional clinker substitutes (such as fly ash or blast furnace slag from the iron and steel industries) for the cement industry. New sources of SCMs include calcined clay, limestone, and natural pozzolans. Cement companies should invest in the use of new SCMs to prepare for stronger regulation on emissions and scarcity of traditional substitutes. In addition, early investment in CCS can help smoothen the transition to near zero emissions production and avoid stranded assets.
Further research on and adoption of low-carbon fuels can also help ensure compliance with stronger regulation on emissions. To ensure sufficiency and cost-competitive access to alternative fuels, such as waste from landfills or sustainability sourced biomass, the cement industry must establish and ensure coordination with suppliers.
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