Could cement be zero carbon?

Ian Riley, CEO of the World Cement Association, spoke to ELN about potential technologies that can support the cement industry’s journey to net zero

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Zero carbon cement could prove a cornerstone of the net zero economy. But are we anywhere near seeing this development yet, or is there still some way to go?

World Cement Association (WCA) Chief Executive Officer Ian Riley spoke to ELN about what he believes are the most promising areas of technological development when it comes to tackling climate change in the cement industry: “Cement is used in concrete and concrete, of course, is one of the most widely used materials, in fact, the second most widely used after water. And it’s really essential to urbanisation. You can’t build up an infrastructure without concrete.

“The emissions of concrete are primarily from cement and the other constituents of concrete, sand and aggregates. And so, this is the challenge we face now. Historically, we have looked at how we can reduce emissions from cement and the three levers that we have pulled have been energy efficiency, the use of alternative fuels, so moving away from coal to primarily to refuse-derived fuels, and then reducing the proportion of clinker in the cement.”

Cement production currently accounts for roughly 7% of all global emissions.

WCA estimates that while around one-third of these can be tackled through existing strategies and technologies, the remaining two-thirds will rely on new technologies if we are to reach net zero by 2050.

Mr Riley said: “I think the only way we can get cement to zero carbon, as we understand at the moment, is through carbon capture. And then it’s a question of what we do with the carbon dioxide that we capture. And so I think, if we take cement and concrete together, then there’s opportunity in the concrete and in the aggregate production to use that captured carbon dioxide.”

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