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Delving deeper into decarbonisation – World Cement

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World Cement,

By Alfredo Carrato, Venture Capital Advisor at CEMEX Ventures.
From the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, and the Colosseum, to now, with the construction of the Burj Khalifa, concrete has historically been one of the most popular building materials due to its adaptability, durability, and dependability. However, as the most used man-made material in the world, concrete accounts for at least 7% of all global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Despite this evidence, due to population growth and urbanization, demand for cement (the primary binder of concrete) is set to increase by over one-third before 2050: that is the equivalent of building another New York City every month for the next 40 years.
Nevertheless, with the increasing severity of climate change, forward-thinking businesses and governments must work together and search for alternative ways to minimise their global environmental impact according to international and national guidelines. The Paris Agreement, perhaps the most well-known international treaty on climate change, sets a legally binding framework adopted by 196 countries outlining goals to limit global warming below 2°C. To meet these objectives, 50 major corporations – including Microsoft, Google, and Amazon – have pledged to begin purchasing low-carbon versions of cement starting this year. From the public sector, California (the US’s second-largest cement producer after Texas) has committed to cut 40% of carbon emissions per ton of cement by 2035, while the UK government’s Future Homes Standard is pushing for all new buildings to have a 30% lower carbon footprint than their predecessors. Also in Great Britain, the Mineral Products Association ambitiously takes the sector’s goals one step further to go beyond net-zero and become net negative by removing more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits yearly.
So, what causes excessive carbon emissions from cement production? And what technologies are leading the way to a more sustainable and net-negative carbon future?
According to the Global Efficiency Intelligence report, about 60% of the cement industry’s total CO2 emissions are related to the chemical reaction that results from heating limestone at temperatures of 2500°F (1371°C). The other 40% of CO2 emissions are mainly generated from fuel combustion and electricity use, and while some specialists look for ways to capture the greenhouse gasses released from these processes, others search for ways to avoid producing them altogether.
Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) is one such approach that seeks to permanently sequester greenhouse gasses from industrial processes before they enter the atmosphere. It involves capturing, transporting and storing greenhouse gas emissions underground, and companies like Carbon Clean are revolutionising the current value chain by reducing the size and cost of required equipment to extract CO2 from large-scale industrial plants. This carbon dioxide can then be transported and injected deep underground, primarily in geological formations that can safely and permanently trap the CO2.
This underground storage has the potential to lock up to 90% of current CO2 emitted from fossil fuels (coal, oil, or gas), power stations, or chemical plants —the primary sources of anthropogenic carbon emissions. With reservoirs around the Gulf of Mexico large enough to hold up to 500 billion t of CO2 (the equivalent of 130 years of US industrial and power-generated emissions) this becomes a reliable and scalable solution for increasing emissions, but what alternatives exist to make the sequestration of CO2 safe and profitable above ground?
Carbon utilisation is a method that recycles captured carbon to produce new products or services. For example, companies like Carbon Upcycling Technologies are working to combine previously captured CO2 with waste ash and slag to transform them into reactive materials that can be used in cement and concrete production – while additionally storing CO2 permanently. Such emissions can be directly collected from coal-fired power plants and other industrial facilities, and infused into new cement and concrete additives with a lower carbon footprint.
Carbon Upcycling Technologies and other utilisation companies demonstrate the high value that can be extracted from CO2, turning liabilities into opportunities for many emitters. Examples of it include solutions in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), plastics, coatings, adhesives, battery, and pharmaceutical industries.
Clinker is the stony material that results from heating limestone and is the main component of cement, making it an indispensable part of the concrete manufacturing process. Unfortunately, most of the sector’s overall emissions are inevitably attributed to the chemical reactions that take place at a cement kiln and are needed for production at scale.
That being said, CEMEX has been investing heavily in clinker substitutes to alleviate availability problems and pave the way to a 30% reduction of fossil energy use and CO2 emissions in both cement and concrete production. The company’s solutions include, among others, Vertua, a geopolymer and clinker-free concrete with up to 70% less CO2 than standard mixes. It can provide additional benefits including increased durability and multiple aesthetic finishes, and be used for applications such as foundations, roads, and groundworks. In a mission to be carbon neutral, its ‘Zero’ counterpart goes the extra mile by offsetting the remaining carbon percentage (30%) through an accredited offset provider.
Accordingly, buyers can feel confident in their actions toward the 2050 ‘net-zero’ CO2 goal when they receive their post-purchase certification that meets the requirements of The Carbon Neutral Protocol. Vertua’s clinker-free cement alternative is comparable to taking 105 cars off the road or planting 21 new trees, representing a 1.3 t decrease in CO2 emissions. This low-carbon cement has already been applied in landmark projects worldwide, such as the skyscraper La Marseillaise in France, the Querétaro-Irapuato highway in Mexico, the new stadium at San Diego State University in California and the Pereira shopping centre in Colombia.
Other clinker substitutes include different hydraulic materials and pozzolans, supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) that can be both naturally occurring or derived from industrial by-product materials and present benefits related to cost and environmental impact. In a mission to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, many solutions also aim at giving a second life to waste streams so that manufacturers can make new and sustainable products out of them.
The circular economy model implies much more than recycling final products back into the production process; it also repurposes the waste created throughout the different production stages. With increased attention on sustainability, stakeholders are increasingly reviewing the entire material life cycle, from how a plan is designed to how demolition waste is handled. This is known as green construction.
The United Nations recognises that concrete can absorb up to 50% of the CO2 emissions it exudes during its built form, making it the most sustainable and resilient building material worldwide. Part of the CO2 emitted during cement production is re-absorbed when the limestone found in the concrete reacts with CO2 in the atmosphere, making carbon carbonate and trapping the carbon dioxide (almost) forever.
Nonetheless, the world is still emitting more CO2 than ever before. In 2021, carbon dioxide levels jumped above 2.58 ppm, the 5th-highest (tied) annual increase in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) 63-year record. Consequently, leading cement producers are accelerating their adoption of (among others) clean energy to power the high amounts of electricity that clinker and cement production operations require.
On that note, Swiss start-up EnviroTech
Join World Cement in Lisbon, 10 – 13 March 2024, for our first in-person conference and exhibition: EnviroTech.
This exclusive knowledge and networking event will bring together cement producers, industry leaders, technical experts, analysts, and other stakeholders to discuss the latest technologies, processes, and policies being deployed at the forefront of the cement industry’s efforts to reduce its environmental footprint.

Final tickets on sale NOW »

Titan Cement International SA provides a Trading Update, ahead of the Group’s Full Year results on 13 March 2024.
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Ready to revolutionise the cement industry?
Join World Cement in Lisbon, 10 – 13 March 2024, for our first in-person conference and exhibition: EnviroTech.
This exclusive knowledge and networking event will bring together cement producers, industry leaders, technical experts, analysts, and other stakeholders to discuss the latest technologies, processes, and policies being deployed at the forefront of the cement industry’s efforts to reduce its environmental footprint. Tickets are nearly sold out, act fast!
Get your tickets NOW
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