Business - 24/October/2018

Cement industry finds it difficult to ditch bad habits

The cement sector has accepted the size of its carbon footprint, but it will take greater pressure from regulators and NGOs to force the industry to totally change its ways

“There are some storm clouds gathering on the horizon for the cement industry and we must work together now to repair the roof while the sun is still shining,”warned Zhi Ping Song, president of World Cement Association (WCA), at its climate change forum in June 2018. In an industry plagued by low margins and production capacity well exceeding demand in many countries, finding the resources to invest is not so easy. Stiffer emissions reduction regulations, tighter carbon emissions trading rules and increased lobbying by environmental organisations may, however, leave the industry little choice, but to cough up.

Cement, used to make concrete, involves decomposing limestone (calcium carbonate) to produce clinker, a process that accounts for two-thirds of the industry’s total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Reducing the clinker content of cement is therefore a key climate lever. The other third of CO2 emissions are emitted during fuel combustion for the process heat needed for cement production. The whole process means the cement industry’s global share of direct industrial CO2 emissions is 27%, the second largest of any industrial sector behind iron and steel.

The industry has been slow to acknowledge the extent of its carbon addiction. Global climate change awareness was triggered back in 1997 with the Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gas concentrations to “a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. Yet, the International Energy Agency (IEA) only released its first cement sector climate analysis in 2009. Nearly ten years later in a 2018 update of its original report, the IEA forecasts that despite increasing efficiencies, cement’s direct carbon emissions are expected to rise by 4% globally by 2050, albeit with an increase of 12% in global cement production in the same period. This scenario is not business as usual, says the agency, insisting that it takes into consideration energy consumption trends and commitments by countries to limit carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency. ...

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