Solving for Carbon Through the Cement and Concrete Industry
In Winter 2021, I joined a program titled Climate Innovation and Discovery stream, hosted by Concept at the University of Waterloo. I was matched with a team of incredible fellow students, Terri Rau and Panshul Singh, and we were given access to resources and experts to explore specific climate change-related problems. We chose to focus on addressing the carbon emissions produced by the cement and concrete industry.
We all know, in order to protect human society and keep global warming below 2-3°C, it will be necessary to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. We are interested in a technology that uses a resource and industry that has been around for a very long time, concrete.
For the context of our research, we are often looking specifically at cement production, which is the binding property in concrete. Cement and concrete production are the second highest industrial source of CO2 on the planet. Concrete emissions are responsible for 8% CO2 emissions globally. While concrete currently is a significant source of carbon emissions it also holds potential to be a system that diverts carbon from the atmosphere.
Looking closer at the lifecycle, Emissions are present all along the cement lifecycle. The actual processing of raw materials is where the emission of CO2 begins to significantly increase But most significantly and of greatest concern is the heating and cooling process that makes the characteristic binding quality of cement – which emits an estimated 824 CO2kg/ton.
And research has shown that 4000 tonnes of cement is produced daily, and the rate of cement production is increasing faster than the rate of the population . This production rate results in approx. 3.3 million kg of CO2 released per day
The most significant producers of cement are China and India. But an interesting observation is that the production in China has decreased slightly in recent years. At the same time, India’s production has increased, indicating to us that if development goes unaddressed the CO2 emissions from the cement industry will be a significant problem in the future.
Carbon Capture and Storage (or CCS) in the Cement and Concrete Industry is a potential technology to address emissions.
There are two types of technology areas;
capturing CO2 emissions for reuse;
and storage of CO2 in concrete
By adding CO2 to concrete, it is a great solution for removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it permanently. This process reduces the amount of cement required to make the concrete and thereby lowers the demand for cement. Plus, research has shown that the CO2 induced cement is stronger than regular cement.
Using Carbon Capture and Storage technologies have potential to be beneficial to the cement industry with capabilities of;
90% capture of CO2 of emissions;
reduction in demand for cement material;
AND that daily dose of 3.3 million kg being offset is equivalent to offsetting the emissions of a coal power plant for a year.
So, why hasn’t Carbon Capture and Storage transformed the industry? The facts are there, it seems like an obvious switch to make. But there is significant resistance to these approaches, especially from the cement production industry.
Looking at North America, there are 6000 concrete producers and only 300 of these producers are utilizing the Carbon Capture and Storage technology – that is only 5%. According to the Global CCS Institute;
India has zero operational facilities;
and China has 8 operational facilities – only 1 of those involves the cement industry.
This is a global concern and affects everybody, therefore, the problem we chose is the significant barriers to adaptation of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies in the concrete and cement production industry.
Our research has identified these barriers for the adoption of Carbon Capture and Storage, and we are focusing on the top three highlighted yellow.
Some companies in the Carbon Capture and Storage space of the cement industry have tried different approaches to address these barriers. These are;
providing Educational Materials;
and expanding investor bases
But, these solutions are most effectively and universally implemented through government regulation rather than through individual corporations.
We are suggesting new legislation that enforces at least one (but preferably all) Carbon Capture and Storage options to be implemented for each cement and concrete processing manufacturer. Implementing global energy legislation enforcing the conversion to clean energy such as using carbon captured during the processing of cement and lobbying the government for funding
Capturing 80% of cement’s process emissions (not including the thermal emissions) by 2050 is sufficient to make cement carbon neutral. Let's take that a step further and capture 100% of cement's process emissions to make it carbon negative.
Cement manufacturers need the funding and technology to implement affordable and achievable solutions to help this industry become carbon negative. We want to make that happen!