Update on slag in the US, May 2023

Update on slag in the US, May 2023

Heidelberg Materials North America held an official opening ceremony this week for its upgraded slag cement plant and terminal at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The US$24m project added a new roller press to the unit to increase its production capacity. In a statement Chris Ward, the president and chief executive officer of the company, said that it had made the investment to meet sustainability and resilient construction goals. Industrial Accessories Company (IAC) said in mid-2021 that it had been named as the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contractor for the project. It planned to install a hydraulic roller press supplied by FLSmidth. IAC also said it was providing instrumentation equipment, hoppers, bins, belt conveyors, bucket elevators and dust collectors amongst other kit and services.

Other recent US slag cement-related news stories have concerned terminals. In late August 2022 Royal White Cement said it had leased a site on the Houston Ship Channel in Houston, Texas to handle and store approximately 100,000t of multiple cementitous products such as slag, ordinary Portland cement and white Cement. In May 2022 Titan America announced plans to spend US$37m on an upgrade to its Norfolk terminal in Chesapeake, Virginia. The major improvement was to add a 70,000t storage dome, with enlarged truck and railway capacity, to allow the site to import and distribute raw materials such as fly ash, slag and aggregates. Completion on this one was scheduled for some point in 2023. Titan added that the project was similar to the addition of a 70,000t dome under construction at the time at Titan’s import terminal in Tampa, Florida.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that domestic sales of iron and steel (ferrous) slags in the US amounted to 15Mt in 2022. Sales were around 20Mt in the 2000s but this fell to current levels in the 2010s as blast furnaces closed. In 2022 the USGS noted that, “domestic ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBFS) remained in limited supply because granulation cooling was known to be available at only two active US blast furnaces while, elsewhere, only one domestic plant produced pelletised slag in limited supply.” It added that the grinding of granulated blast furnace slag was only being carried out domestically by cement companies. Imports of slag were 2Mt in 2022. This is a decline from a peak of 2.6Mt in 2018 but higher than the period 2000 – 2015. The price of slag, meanwhile, hit a high of US$53/t in 2022. This is the highest price recorded by the USGS since at least 2000. It is double that of 2017.

Charles Zeynel of ZAG International noted in the June 2023 issue of Global Cement Magazine that cement producers in Florida, California, Texas, Georgia and the Carolinas are far from steel mills, so they import granulated blast furnace slag (GBFS) and other secondary cementitious materials (SCM). This certainly fits with Heidelberg Materials’ plan to upgrade its slag cement plant and terminal at Cape Canaveral. Also on the US market, Zeynel added that due to rising global demand for SCMs more of the available share of GBFS was being purchased by ‘richer’ markets such as Europe, North America and Australia. He continued that GBFS and GGBFS producers had also started increasing the price of their wares internationally. This too is apparent in the prices published by the USGS.

One final story with links to slag to note this week concerns the launch of the Alliance for Low-Carbon Cement & Concrete (ALCC) in Europe. The group brings together companies producing products or services intended to decarbonise the cement and concrete sectors. Two of the members – Ecocem and Hoffman Green Cement Technologies – are Europe-based slag cement producers. Two other members – Fortera and TerraCO2 – are companies based in North America that are marketing and selling low-carbon SCMs.

Various start-up companies have been emerging on a regular basis in both North America and Europe with the aim of decarbonising cement and concrete in various different ways. The formation of the ALCC can be seen as part of this trend as the more successful non-traditional cement-concrete-aggregate companies establish themselves. One point that cement producers in North America are likely to be well aware of is that concrete is becoming less linked to clinker as the cost of carbon mounts and the clinker factor of cement lowers. Slag supplies may be finite but Heidelberg Materials North America’s latest investment in Florida is further acceptance that one doesn’t just need clinker to make concrete.