Aerial view of a cement plant

Carbon capture is essential to cut emissions in the cement industry

The European cement industry has launched ambitious climate targets towards 2030 and 2050. This article from Endrava takes a closer look at the cement industry from an emissions perspective, highlighting the key importance of carbon capture and storage in required emission reductions. We then use our own tool called CaptureMap to get a better understanding of these emissions in a European context, highlighting some of the insights useful for decision makers going forward.

Cement is a binding agent in concrete, a material used in construction of bridges, buildings, roads, dams, power plants, pipelines and more. It’s everywhere, and its use is growing – cement production in 2020 was triple that of 1995. As the world develops and becomes more urbanized, there’s little doubt that more cement will be needed.

This growth is not without environmental costs. The cement industry contributes to around 7 % of global greenhouse gas emissions. Broadly speaking, over 90 % of the emissions can be attributed to clinker production in which limestone and clay is fused in a kiln at temperatures up to 1450 degrees C. This clinker production results in both process emissions and thermal emissions, typically from burning fossil fuels, waste and/or solid biomass. Less than 10 % can be attributed to other steps in the value chain.

Carbon capture can help cut these emissions from cement
Endrava illustration of greenhouse gas emissions from cement production, made with data from International Finance Corporation, 2021: Strengthening Sustainability in the Cement Industry.

Europe can lead the way on emission reductions and carbon capture will be pivotal 

The top five cement producers are China, India, EU27, USA and Brazil. A majority of cement production therefore happens outside of Europe. Still, Europe is in a fortunate position where ambitious climate targets are supported by policy frameworks, funding and public interests. Together they align to create opportunities to pilot and commercialize emission abatement technologies. What happens in Europe, therefore, quickly becomes a template for other regions to follow. 

The European Cement Association, known as Cembureau, has recently launched ambitious climate targets toward 2030 and 2050. In its climate neutrality roadmap, Cembureau aims to reduce CO2-emissions in line with the Paris Agreement’s two degree scenario, with climate neutrality in 2050, along the cement value chain. The figure to the right illustrates the abatement pathways that together will bring along carbon neutrality. 

There are two main takeaways from this figure that we’d like to highlight. First, there’s no silver bullet – a wide variety of mitigation actions are needed to reach 0 kg CO2/t cement by 2050. Second, by far the largest mitigation action listed is carbon capture, utilization and storage. 

Figure from Cembureau, 2021: 2050 Roadmap

CaptureMap helps to show the potential

So, if carbon capture is essential, where do we begin? The map to the right shows data from Endrava’s CaptureMap for 240 facilities, together amounting to 126,8 million tonnes of CO2 per year. The plants are all over Europe. 

Screenshot from Endrava’s CaptureMap: Cement plants in Europe, circle size scaled with emission size

By exporting the CaptureMap dataset, we can also do some Excel analysis on the side. The diagram on the right shows a histogram of the facilities. Most of the sites are therefore smaller, and median emission size of the sites in our database is about 440 000 tonnes CO2/year while the average is a bit higher at 530 000 tonnes CO2/year. Clearly, it doesn’t make sense to start implementing CCS on 240 sites at the same time, so we need to be a bit more selective

Analysis of data from Endrava’s CaptureMap: Cement plants in Europe, histogram based on site annual emissions

In the map below, we have implemented some filters on our database:

  • Sites with annual emissions more than 800 000 tonnes CO2/year
  • Sites that have ETS emissions greater than what they’ve been given as free allocations (meaning in principle they have to start purchasing allowances in the market)

The updated map is shown on the right, with 41 cement production facilities that correspond to the criteria. This is a more manageable list to go after. And we see some other promising candidates that might be next in line.

Screnshot from Endrava’s CaptureMap: Cement plants in Europe with parameter filters, circle size scaled with emission size. 

What’s happening at Norcem Brevik?

For fun, we also included is site-specific overview of Norcem Brevik. This is the northernmost dot in the picture above. What’s exciting about this site is that construction of carbon capture technology is currently ongoing. If you were curious, we have similar site overviews for all of the 10 000+ sites in our database. 

Visualization from Endrava’s CaptureMap: Site-specific overview of Norcem Brevik. 

Even more potential if we include North America

Zooming out as a final thought for this article. If we remove the filter on ETS gaps, and thereby include the North American market, we get the picture below with 77 cement production facilities and around 90 mtpa of CO2 emissions. Clearly there’s enough to do for CCS/CCUS in the cement industry going forwards and we are excited to see what’s next! 

Visualization from Endrava’s CaptureMap: Cement plants in Europe and North America with parameter filters, circle size scaled with emission size. 

Are you interested in the potential for CCS in other segments? Read our blog posts on Waste-to-EnergyAmmonia and Ethanol!

Sources used in the article

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