Anders Josefsen, Senior Vice President and Head of Projects and Upgrades, FLSmidth, discusses the evolving role of cement plants in society – from producing a key ingredient in building critical infrastructure to enabling a circular economy.
The role of cement is evolving. The industry has always been a pillar in the communities in which it operates – as an employer and as the producer of one of the world’s most widely-used products. But it has not always been the most popular of neighbours. It has had to work hard to win the trust of locals, to ensure that the benefits of its presence outweigh the disadvantages – and that those disadvantages are reduced year by year. Today, the fact remains that the industry continues to be one of the world’s largest emitters of CO2, and initiatives to decarbonise need to go beyond traditional energy savings and optimisation.
No stone is left unturned in the quest to minimise the environmental impacts from cement production, and one area in which the industry is making progress is as a valuable outlet for waste. Because of the high temperatures required to produce clinker, cement’s key ingredient, as well as the stringent regulations controlling emissions, the cement plant is well suited to co-process municipal and industrial waste, which cannot otherwise be recycled, thereby displacing traditional fossil fuels – mostly coal. In fact, we see more and more cases of producers, encouraged by local authorities, playing a beneficial role in disposing of waste that would otherwise prove problematic – including hazardous medical waste, and even solvents.
Not waste incineration, but co-processing
In waste-to-energy plants where waste is incinerated to produce electricity, there is a by-product: residues that need dealing with. In a cement plant, waste is burned in the kiln or calciner, producing the heat needed for calcination, and the remaining residues become part of the end-product. This – together with the advanced air pollution control technology and the fact that you do not need to invest in new incineration plants – is why waste-derived fuels work well in the cement industry.
In Europe, co-processing of alternative fuels such as biomass, meat and bone meal and household waste, is common practice, representing nearly 50 per cent of the fuel used in cement production. It is made easier by the availability of the required infrastructure to sort, manage and optimise waste streams, backed by sophisticated EU waste legislation. However, in regions where waste management infrastructure is not well developed, the cement industry can play an important role by helping to build waste-to-energy partnerships and address the mounting waste challenge.
This has been demonstrated recently in countries like Indonesia, where INDOCEMENT is investing in technology to co-process alternative fuels that would otherwise be landfilled. Similarly, in Vietnam, a partnership has sprung up between waste handling start-up TONTOTON and FLSmidth to help Vietnamese cement producers utilise non-recyclable plastic waste in their process. Equipment like our HOTDISC® Combustion Device enables such waste to be burned without pre-processing, significantly broadening the horizons on what can be fired in a kiln or calciner, and reducing the costs involved.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
It is true that co-processing of waste is not a magic bullet. Depending on the composition of the waste, it emits CO2 when used as a fuel. However, it does provide a useful path for non-recyclable waste that would otherwise be landfilled, littered, or burnt in the open air, as happens in many countries, causing a litany of environmental and health hazards for local communities.
The sheer quantities and varieties of non-recyclable waste are astounding – by-products from agriculture, mining, power generation, and even from construction. According to the United Nations, greenhouse gas emissions from plastics are projected to increase to approximately 6.5 gigatonnes in 2050. That represents 15 per cent of the whole global carbon budget.1
With 23 per cent of the world’s waste generation, the East Asia and Pacific region leads the statistics, reports the World Bank in their ‘What a waste 2.0’ report. The Middle East and North Africa region is producing the least in absolute terms, at six per cent. But, especially for low-income countries, materials that could be recycled account for only 16 per cent of the waste stream.2
Solid waste management is also a financial burden to municipalities in low-income countries, which are estimated to spend about 20 per cent of their budgets on waste management, on average. Yet over 90 per cent of waste in low-income countries is still openly dumped or burned.3
Closing the loop in concrete
Construction and demolition waste is one of the largest sources of waste by volume. At an annual growth rate of four per cent, it is projected to be a $143 billion business by 2028. In this lies an opportunity to close a loop. Why make more of something when you can reuse what you already have? Scientists and companies in the cement value chain, including FLSmidth, are exploring ways to break concrete down into its core components, including a fine cement paste concentrate suitable for making eco-friendly cementitious binders. This would help reduce the clinker factor – the amount of clinker that needs to be produced to meet cement demand – as well as provide a new pathway for old concrete. An economical and environmental approach to manufacturing.
According to the International Energy Association, the integration of emerging technologies such as lowering the clinker-factor in cement and carbon capture, will provide some of the largest cumulative CO2 reductions in the 2-degree Celsius Scenario (2DS).
Today, an office building has an expected lifespan of 20 years, and a residential building a lifespan of 30-50 years. That is extremely short and underlines the need for upcycling. If the industry is to support accelerating urbanisation, the winners of the construction industry will be the ones who see opportunities in waste that can be used again and again. And they will be the ones getting the building-licences from government authorities.
From trash to treasure…
Mine tailings are also an area of interest. This waste product – the leftovers after the most valuable minerals are extracted during the mining process – is a significant environmental and economic burden to mine operators, and a safety risk to them and their local communities. Great pools of these tailings are left wherever mines are or have been in operation – adding up to some 282 billion tonnes worldwide that could contaminate local soils and groundwater. However, as the old adage goes, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’, and mine tailings could prove to be a valuable opportunity for cement producers.
Research suggests that tailings may hold some of the same properties as traditional supplementary cementitious materials (SCM). This would not only make a significant impact on waste in our communities, but would also save the extraction of the raw materials usually used in cement production.
The cement industry has provided a similar pathway for waste from coal-fired power generation. Fly ash has been used as an SCM for decades. Even now, as coal-fired power plants are phased out, there is the opportunity to harvest stored fly ash – that was previously landfilled – to both relieve the environmental burden and reap the benefits of a lower clinker factor and improved cement strength.
…and from pollutants to new building materials
Carbon capture is essential to achieving a sustainable global cement industry. The development of new solutions is progressing rapidly. Some are ready for deployment now; others require additional research and development. However, one solution that is already on shelves today is Carbon8 Systems’ Accelerated Carbonation Technology (ACT), which FLSmidth offers to the cement industry. The containerised system – the CO2ntainer – captures CO2 direct from process gases and combines it with cement bypass dust to form a lightweight aggregate. The solution contributes to the decarbonisation of a plant while valorising the residues produced and saving the associated landfill costs. It is a circular decarbonisation solution.
The cement industry has a lot to offer to society, both now and well into the future. This push to decarbonise combined with increasing opportunities to contribute to circularity in society is an exciting journey that will fundamentally change the way the industry will operate and be perceived. Ensuring all these opportunities are pursued will require a number of regulatory changes and financial incentives. A worthwhile investment in light of clear benefits to society.
Fornnax Wins the Best Tyre Recycling Industry Supplier Award
Fornnax Technology, a renowned pioneering force in the industry of tyre recycling solutions, has yet again demonstrated its commitment to excellence by attaining the prestigious Best Tyre Recycling Industry Supplier Award at the Recircle Awards 2023. The award ceremony, a highlight of the Futurmotive Expo & Talks Event held in Bologna, Italy on Thursday, November 16, 2023, celebrated industry leaders and innovators contributing significantly to sustainable practices in the tire recycling sector.
The award is evidence of Fornnax’s continuous commitment to using its cutting- edge fleet of machinery to push the envelope of innovation in tyre recycling technology. Intending to transform the sector and tackle the worldwide issue of tyre waste, Fornnax has constantly proven its dedication to ecological sustainability and the concepts of the circular economy.
In addition to effectively recycling tyres nearing the end of their useful life, Fornnax’s award- winning technology places a strong emphasis on the production of high-quality recycled materials. This creative solution fits in well with the ongoing movement to reduce carbon footprints in industrial processes and to find more environmentally friendly alternatives. Modern equipment, astute automation, and a strong dedication to environmental stewardship distinguish Fornnax Technology’s tyre recycling solutions. The company’s tyre recycling machines are designed to maximize resource recovery, minimize environmental impact, and contribute to a more endurable future with adherence to several political policies established in foreign industries. Fornnax’s leadership and revolutionary influence on the tyre recycling landscape are acknowledged with the Best Tyre Recycling Industry Supplier Award at the Recircle Awards 2023. It is an affirmation of Fornnax’s unceasing efforts to push the limits of technological innovation and create new benchmarks for quality in the tyre recycling sector. While we commemorate this historic accomplishment, Fornnax Technology is dedicated to continuing to advance tire recycling technology and have a positive impact on a cleaner, greener future for the earth. More than just recognition, the Best Tyre Recycling Industry Supplier Award represents Fornnax’s continued dedication to environmentally conscious business operations.
Our products are designed with the latest automation technology
S K Ambasta, CEO, ATS Conveyors, talks about their material handling and transportation solutions, which are crafted as per European standards, ensuring high quality and low maintenance.
Tell us about your material handling and transportation solutions.
ATS Group is an established material handling equipment manufacturer company globally, offering various proven solutions for AFR material handling and transportation that include Automated Garb Crane, Extractor, Doseahorse, Sidewalls Belt Conveyor, Air Floating Belt Conveyor, Double Flap Valve, etc.
Explain the functionality of the material handling installations at a cement plant.
ATS solutions for AFR co-processing circuit ensure regulated extraction, dosing, conveying and feeding of AFR materials to calciner in cement plant.
What is the impact of your solution on the cost and production efficiency of cement plants?
ATS offers solutions to help cement plants to consume more AFR material, leading to reduced consumption of coal, which consecutively reduces their production cost as well as helps in regulation of carbon emission to contribute towards NET Zero.
Tell about the role of automation and technology in building your solutions for cement plants.
Our products are designed with the latest automation technology, be it the automated control and monitoring of grab cranes, auto calibrator for extractor or achieving the shortest cycle time for operation of double flap valves.
Do you customise your solutions for cement plants based on their requirements?
Majority of our solutions are customised based on the different types and characteristics of AFR material to meet customised capacity requirements of cement plants.
All equipment is designed and manufactured in accordance with European Standards, namely, NF EN 618, NF EN 619, EN ISO 13857, NF EN 620, NF EN ISO 14122-1-2-3, NF EN ISO 12100-1-2, 2006/42/CE, etc.
Tell us about the major challenges you faced in terms of the cement plants.
Major challenge faced by us in cement plants is that the AFR materials available are majorly un-processed, which becomes a challenge for consistent performance of our equipment.
Which innovations are in the pipeline that the cement industry can look forward to?
Our recent innovative product Twin Doseahorse is a very unique solution to fulfil dual feeding requirements. Also, this has been awarded as Product of the Year in Cement Expo 2023. Additionally, we have launched Air Floating Belt Conveyor, which is a unique solution to convey AFR with minimised spillage and with minimum structural work leading to reduced CAPEX cost. Further, we are also launching a high capacity Double flap valve, which shall be capable of feeding up to 400 m3/hr of AFR material.
Revolutionising the Future
Dr S B Hegde, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Jain College of Engineering and Technology, Hubli, and Visiting Professor, Pennsylvania State University, USA, discusses the hydrogen and automation revolutions in the cement industry in the concluding part of this two-part series.
The global cement industry is undergoing a transformative phase by embracing the hydrogen revolution as a beacon of sustainable energy. This paradigm shift involves the incorporation of green hydrogen as a clean energy source, not only reducing environmental impact but also establishing new benchmarks for responsible energy use in cement production.
Usage of hydrogen in cement plants.
A. Global status
Globally, several leading cement manufacturers have initiated pilot projects and full-scale implementations of hydrogen-based technologies in cement production. As of the latest data, the cement industry accounts for approximately 7 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, making the adoption of green hydrogen crucial for achieving emission reduction targets.
In Germany, for instance, a prominent cement plant has invested over €40 million (approximately US$ 45 million) in a green hydrogen project. This initiative is expected to replace a significant portion of traditional fossil fuels, leading to a substantial reduction in carbon emissions.
B. Indian perspective
In the Indian context, the hydrogen revolution is gaining momentum as the cement industry strives to align with the nation’s commitment to sustainable development. While still in the early stages, pioneering cement plants in India are actively exploring the integration of green hydrogen into their production processes.
C. Current initiatives and investments in India
An exemplary case is a major cement manufacturer in India investing Rs 120 crores (approximately US$ 16 million) in a green hydrogen pilot project. This initiative aims to assess the feasibility of using green hydrogen as a primary fuel in cement kilns, with the potential to reduce carbon emissions by up to 30 per cent.
D. Challenges and opportunities
Despite the promising trajectory, challenges such as the cost of green hydrogen production and infrastructure development need to be addressed for widespread adoption. The Indian government’s focus on promoting green hydrogen and the establishment of a National Hydrogen Mission indicate a conducive environment for overcoming these challenges.
E. Environmental impact
The incorporation of green hydrogen into cement production offers a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. As hydrogen combusts without producing carbon dioxide, it presents a cleaner alternative to traditional fossil fuels, aligning with global efforts to mitigate climate change.
F. Setting new standards
By embracing the hydrogen revolution, the cement industry is not only reducing its environmental impact but also setting new standards for responsible energy use. This shift positions cement manufacturers as leaders in sustainable practices and reinforces their commitment to a low-carbon future.
G. Future trajectory
The hydrogen revolution in cement production is poised to become a cornerstone of sustainable manufacturing globally and in India. Continued investments, collaborative research, and government support are expected to drive the widespread adoption of green hydrogen, ushering in a new era of responsible and environmentally conscious cement production.
As the cement industry propels into the future, a seismic shift is underway, steering towards a highly automated and robotic workforce. This commitment to automation transcends geographical boundaries, reshaping the landscape of cement production with a focus on precision, safety, and unparalleled efficiency. Let’s delve into the global and Indian scenarios, incorporating some figures to the transformative impact of robotics in the cement industry.
A. Adoption of automation
Globally, leading cement manufacturers are at the vanguard of adopting automation and robotic technologies. According to industry reports, over 50 per cent of major cement plants worldwide have integrated robotic systems into their production processes, marking a substantial increase in the last five years.
B. Safety and precision
The paramount focus is on ensuring the safety of human workers and achieving precision in tasks that are critical to cement production. Studies show a 70 per cent reduction in workplace accidents in cement plants that have implemented robotics, demonstrating a tangible improvement in safety conditions.
C. Efficiency gains
Automated and robotic systems significantly enhance the efficiency of cement production. Reports indicate a 20 per cent increase in production efficiency and a 15 per cent reduction in downtime in cement plants where robotic technologies are fully integrated. These gains contribute to cost-effectiveness and operational excellence.
D. Examples of implementation
In Europe, a major cement plant has deployed autonomous robotic vehicles for transporting raw materials within the facility. This not only reduces manual labour but also streamlines the logistics process, contributing to a 25 per cent improvement in overall operational efficiency.
A. Adopting trends
In India, the adoption of robotic systems in the cement industry is steadily gaining traction. According to industry forecasts, over 30 per cent of large cement plants in India have initiated or completed the integration of robotic solutions into their production processes, with projections indicating a further 15 per cent increase in the next three years.
B. Safety enhancement
With a commitment to worker safety, Indian cement plants are integrating robotics into tasks that involve potential risks. Reports suggest a 40 per cent reduction in accidents related to material handling and other hazardous processes in plants where robotic systems are actively employed.
C. Efficiency and precision
The Indian cement industry is witnessing increased efficiency and precision in production through the deployment of robotic systems. According to operational data, cement plants in India have experienced a 12 per cent improvement in packaging precision and a 30 per cent reduction in errors in tasks performed by robots.
D. Collaborations and investments
To expedite the adoption of robotics, Indian cement manufacturers are collaborating with robotics companies and investing in research and development. Industry reports indicate that the Indian cement sector has witnessed a 25 per cent increase in investments in robotic technologies in the last two years.
E. Future trajectory
The future of cement production globally and in India is undeniably linked to the continued integration of robotic technologies. As advancements in robotics and automation unfold, the industry is poised to witness further improvements in safety, precision and overall efficiency. Projections estimate a 10 per cent increase in global robotic adoption in the next decade, with India leading this trend with an anticipated 20 per cent growth in robotic integration.
Global trends in marketing, technology and sustainability
- Virtual global presence
Establishing a virtual global presence through digital showrooms is a strategic approach, especially in an increasingly digital world. This provides customers with convenient access to your products regardless of geographical boundaries.
- Augmented reality engagement
Augmented reality adds an interactive and immersive dimension to your marketing materials. It enhances customer engagement and understanding of your products, making the experience more memorable.
- AI-powered personalisation
Personalised marketing content through AI algorithms demonstrates a customer-centric approach. Understanding and addressing individual needs can enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.
- Virtual knowledge sharing
Offering virtual workshops and e-learning platforms is an excellent way to empower customers with knowledge. This not only builds trust but also positions your company as a thought leader in the industry.
- Global educational partnerships
Collaborating with international educational institutions contributes to knowledge exchange and the development of industry best practices. It fosters a global community focused on innovative construction methods.
- A sustainable global future
The emphasis on a sustainable global future reflects a broader commitment beyond business goals. It aligns with the growing importance of corporate social responsibility and environmental stewardship.
In wrapping up our journey through the innovations and sustainable practices in the global cement industry, it’s clear that our commitment to excellence is shaping the future of construction. Embracing smart technologies like Industry 4.0 in cement plants ensures efficient and eco-friendly production.
Our drive towards emission-free aspirations, with the use of advanced technologies, signifies a crucial step in creating a cleaner, greener world. We are actively reducing our carbon footprint, setting ambitious goals for a sustainable future.
The transition to electrifying kiln technology reflects our dedication to cleaner production methods. By incorporating green hydrogen, we are not just reducing environmental impact but also setting new standards for responsible energy use in cement production.
In marketing, our approach goes beyond borders. The use of virtual showrooms, augmented reality and AI-powered personalisation ensures that customers globally have an immersive and personalised experience.
Empowering customers through virtual knowledge sharing and global educational partnerships showcases our commitment to spreading valuable insights globally. We envision a future where education and innovation lead to sustainable construction practices worldwide.
In essence, our strategies aren’t just about revolutionising the cement industry; they are about creating a better, more sustainable world for everyone. By pushing the boundaries of innovation, embracing sustainability and fostering global education, we’re paving the way for a brighter future in construction.
Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, World Economic Forum, 2016.
International Energy Agency, Technology Roadmap: Carbon Capture and Storage, 2013.
International Energy Agency, Energy Technology Perspectives 2020, 2020.
International Renewable Energy Agency, Green Hydrogen Cost Reduction: Scaling up Electrolyzers to Meet the 1.5°C Climate Goal, 2021.
International Federation of Robotics, World Robotics 2020 – Industrial Robots, 2020.
McKinsey & Company, Reimagining marketing in the next normal, 2021.
Statista, Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) forecast spending worldwide 2020-2024, 2021.
Forbes, AI For Marketers: 8 Best Practices to Boost Your Strategy, 2021.
E-learning Industry, Top eLearning Statistics and Facts For 2021, 2021.
UNESCO, Global Education Monitoring Report 2020, 2020.
United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals, 2021.
About the author:
Dr SB Hegde is an industrial leader with expertise in cement plant operation and optimisation, plant commissioning, new cement plant establishment, etc. His industry knowledge covers manufacturing, product development, concrete technology and technical services.
(*Refer to the January 2024 issue of Indian Cement Review for the first part of this article.)