What is the impact of CEMENT on the environment?
The cement industry accounts for ~5% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (Rubenstein, 2012), which makes it one of the major global warming culprits! Cement is the primary ingredient in concrete, which is used to construct pretty much everything – houses, buildings, bridges, roads. In 2015, the global production capacity of cement totaled 3.75Btn/year distributed across 2,273 plants, concentrated in China, India, and US. The top 10 global cement manufacturers represented ~34% of all production (Saunders, 2015). In April 2016, CEMEX, the 5th largest global cement manufacturer, scored the highest ESG (environmental, social, and governance) disclosure by Bloomberg among its peers in the global cement industry (Freedonia Group , 2015). CEMEX has a strong environmental focus as demonstrated by the several sustainability awards it has received over its lifetime. However, with the global demand of cement expected to increase to 5.2Btn/year by 2019 (Cemex, 2015), could CEMEX, as a leader in environmental sustainability, adopt even more aggressive sustainability goals, such as becoming CO2 neutral or even negative by leveraging or introducing new materials while meeting such a high demand?
Where exactly does the CO2 in this case comes from?
The CO2 emissions of cement come from two sources – raw materials and manufacturing process. Over 60% of CO2 emissions are generated during the de-carbonation of limestone into lime and the rest through the burning of fossil fuels to heat the raw materials in the cement kiln (Maximpact News, 2015).
So what has CEMEX done so far?
CEMEX has continuously worked towards improving its operational efficiencies in order to reduce its negative environmental impact by focusing on major impact areas, such as raw materials and CO2 emissions.
However, CEMEX should revise its targets based on its current operating performance to drive further improvements. For instance, the CO2 and alternative fuels targets have not changed since 2006. The company also does not have a target for alternative raw material, which is concerning given the future expected scarcity of natural resources. CEMEX’s performance across major environmental KPIs is within competitors’ range but it has an opportunity to improve.
What else could CEMEX do?
As customers become more environmentally conscious, raw materials become scarce, and competition intensifies, application of new technologies may significantly contribute to CEMEX’ competitiveness while driving sustainability. New technologies could improve cement’s manufacturing process or decrease its usage in repairs.
Roland Pellenq, an MIT senior scientist, argues that “reducing the ratio of calcium to silicate in cement would enhance the strength of the material, reduce material volume, and cut the emissions associated with concrete by more than half” (Pyper, 2014). His 2015 findings conclude that the “magical ratio” is 1.5 parts of calcium to silica versus the industry accepted standard of 1.7 parts (conventional range: 1.2 to 2:2) would result on a positive impact on emissions, as much as 60%. CEMEX could certainly stand to benefit from this research if they currently follow the industry accepted standard to produce their cement products.
CEMEX could also introduce alternative materials for renovation projects. For instance, the David Ball Group PLC (DBG) launched in 2015 the first zero cement structural concrete, Cemfree. DBG claims that Cemfree is more durable than regular cement, is strong enough to be used in structural applications, and reduces CO2 up to 95% in comparison to regular cement (World Cement, 2015). However, Cemfree contains ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBS), which is a byproduct of the blastfurnaces manufacturing iron for steel making. Therefore, the availability of raw material is limited, which means that Cemfree can’t completely replace regular cement but it can help to decrease cement output.
CEMEX could commercialize self-healing concrete, which would minimize overall number of repair projects. Researches from the School of Engineering at the University of Cardiff, in Wales, are testing a collection of self-healing concrete technologies through a project called Materials for Life (M4L). Their ultimate goal is to create autonomous infrastructure that can repair themselves without human intervention (Cardiff University, 2015). M4L is currently testing three types of self-healing concreate on a road improvement scheme in South Wales:
- A concrete that uses shape shifting materials, known as shape-memory polymers, activated when heated by a small current
- A concrete with healing agents made from organic and inorganic material pumped through a network of thin tunnels
- A concrete with capsules, or lightweight aggregates, that contain bacteria and healing agents. When the capsules break the nutrients will enable the bacteria to produce calcium carbonate, which would help to repair the concrete
While some of above recommendations may result in sales cannibalization, they would also produce new revenue streams for CEMEX with an even greater positive environmental impact. CEMEX has set a great example for other cement companies to follow but should continue to push the boundaries of what is possible to remain a sustainability leader. Doing so would help CEMEX to set even more aggressive sustainability goals, which could become the new industry standards.
Cardiff University. (2015, October 28). UK’s first trial of self-healing concrete. Retrieved from Cardiff University: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/news/view/152733-uks-first-trial-of-self-healing-concrete
Cemex. (2015, April). Sustainable Development. Retrieved from Cemex.com: http://www.cemex.com/SustainableDevelopment/Awards.aspx
Freedonia Group . (2015, August 28). World Cement to 2019. Retrieved from Market Research: http://www.rnrmarketresearch.com/world-cement-to-2019-market-report.html
Maximpact News. (2015, December 24). Cement CEO’s Rise to the Climate Challenge. Retrieved from Maximpact Blog: http://maximpactblog.com/cement-ceos-rise-to-the-climate-challenge/
Pyper, J. (2014, September 26). New Formula Could Cut Pollution from Concrete. Retrieved from Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-formula-could-cut-pollution-from-concrete/
Rubenstein, M. (2012, May 9). Emissions from the Cement Industry. Retrieved from State of the Planet, Earth Institute: http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2012/05/09/emissions-from-the-cement-industry/
Saunders, A. (2015, December 1). The top 100 global cement companies and global per capita capacity trends. Retrieved from Global Cement: http://www.globalcement.com/magazine/articles/964-preview-the-top-100-global-cement-companies-and-global-per-capita-capacity-trends
World Cement. (2015, January 30). Zero cement structural concrete offers opportunity not threat. Retrieved from World Cement: https://www.worldcement.com/europe-cis/30012015/zero-cement-structural-concrete-article/