Update from the road

Update from the road

Mike Ireland, PCA, provides an update on the US cement industry’s decarbonisation progress.

This autumn marks the anniversary of two flagship pieces of legislation from the Biden administration that place sustainability at the centre of the cement-concrete-construction value chain and will impact the life of every American. The Inflation Reduction Act – the largest investment in climate action history – turned one in August. And later this month, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law turns two. Both measures hold a commitment to swift, deep decarbonisation across a broad swathe of industries – including cement.

A third noteworthy anniversary that falls right in line with the other two: the second anniversary of the launch of Portland Cement Association’s (PCA) Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality, which was recognised in October. PCA, which represents the majority of US cement manufacturers, is steadfast in its commitment to the Roadmap, which is a strategy for the industry to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, if not sooner.

To provide an update on strides being made, PCA hosted a virtual cement and concrete Sustainability Summit in August, which offered insights from PCA member companies and other industry experts on innovative developments in cutting CO2 emissions aligned with Roadmap goals.

The following month, PCA co-hosted two panels during Climate Week NYC with the Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA), featuring industry CEOs, policymakers, academia and other key leaders. The first panel, ‘Carbon capture: How to get closer’, focused on where the cement and concrete industry stands with carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), what it needs to hasten development, and what it will take to cross the various hurdles to scalable CCUS. The second panel, ‘Getting to carbon neutrality by going with the alternatives: Alt fuels, alt raw materials and energy efficiency’, highlighted the ‘low-hanging fruit’ on the industry’s path to net zero. Panellists discussed what is needed to enable greater use of alternative fuels and alternative materials, with a focus on alternative fuels use in Europe.

Bringing attention to the work the industry is doing is a key step in the decarbonisation journey, as the industry will not be able to unlock all the opportunities, overcome legislative and regulatory hurdles, and influence the users of our product without partnership and awareness.

Finding new ways to power cement plants

The cement industry has long been focused on energy efficiency and finding alternatives to fossil fuels to power operations. As investments in clean energy scale up and new power sources become more viable, many US cement companies are shifting to renewable energy and/or the use of alternative fuels.

In March, Alamo Cement Company, Buzzi Unicem’s plant in San Antonio, Texas, announced it had installed a 10 MW DC capacity solar panel farm. The 45 acre solar panel field is estimated to generate up to 15% of the plant’s yearly energy consumption, resulting in an estimated reduction of 8000 tpy of CO2 emissions.

On the alternative fuels front, Continental Cement Company has invested in a unique partnership with Green America Recycling – a waste treatment, storage, and disposal facility – to efficiently replace coal with a locally available, lower-carbon fuel source. Continental Cement currently has a 48% fuel substitution rate at its Hannibal, Missouri, plant and a 38% substitution rate at its Davenport, Iowa, plant. The use of discarded materials for non-coal fuels reduces landfill waste and significantly reduces net emissions.