If you needed a sign that the cement industry has become serious about carbon capture it was the presence of two organisations offering CO2 transport and storage capacity in northern Europe at last week’s Innovation in Industrial Carbon Capture Conference 2020 (IICCC). Both Norway’s Northern Lights and the Rotterdam CCUS (Project Porthos) were busy at their stands during the event’s exhibition. Meanwhile, Cembureau, the European Cement Association, said that it will work on finding other potential storage sites for CO2 and on identifying existing gas pipelines that could be converted. The industry is planning what to do about CO2 transport and storage.
As with the previous IICCC event in 2018 the heart of the programme was the Low Emissions Intensity Lime And Cement (LEILAC) project. Since then Calix’s 60m tall pilot Direct Separation Calciner unit has been built at the HeidelbergCement cement plant in Lixhe and has been tested since mid-2019. Early results look promising, with CO2 separation occurring, calcined material produced and the tube structure and mechanical expansion holding up. Problems with thermocouples failing, blockages and recarbonation at the base of the tube have been encountered but these are being tackled in the de-bottlenecking phase. Testing will continue well into 2020 and plans for the next demonstration project at another cement plant in Europe are already moving ahead. LEILAC 2 will see industry partners Cimpor, Lhoist, Port of Rotterdam and IKN join Calix, HeidelbergCement and other research partners to work together on a larger 0.1Mt/yr CO2 separation pilot scheduled for completion in 2025.
Alongside this HeidelbergCement presented a convincing vision of a carbon neutral future for the cement industry at the IICCC 2020. It may not be what actually happens but the building materials producer has a clear plan across the lifecycle chain of cement. It is researching and testing a variety of methods to capture CO2 process emissions, is looking at supply chains and storage sites for the CO2 and is working on recycling concrete as aggregates and cementations material via recarbonation. In terms of carbon capture technology, an amine-based industrial scale CCS unit looks likely to be built at Norcem’s Brevik plant in the early 2020s. HeidelbergCement’s other joint-research projects – direct separation and oxyfuel – are further behind, at the pilot and pre-pilot stages respectively. Each technology looks set to offer progressively better and cheaper CO2 capture as they come on line.
Or put another way, cement companies in Europe could build industrial scale amine-based carbon (CC) capture plants now. Yet the game appears to be to wait until the cost of CCS falls through new technology versus the rising emissions trading scheme (ETS) price of CO2. CC is expected to become economically feasible in a decade’s time, sometime in the 2030s. At which point there might be an upgrade boom as plants are retrofitted with CC units or new production lines are commissioned. Other ways of reducing the cement industry’s CO2 emissions, of course, are being explored by other companies such as further reducing the clinker factor through the use of calcined clays (LC3 and others), solar reactor or electric-powered kilns and more.
The usual problem of how the construction industry can cope with a higher cost of cement was acknowledged at IICCC 2020 but it is largely being worked around. Higher priced cement poses competitive issues for specifiers and construction companies but it is widely expected to result in price rises below 5% for most residential end users. In the short-term government policy such as requiring low carbon cement in state building projects could stimulate the market. The start of this process can be seen already with the use of slag cements in various infrastructure projects.
Hans Bergman, Head Unit ETS Policy Development at the Directorate-General for Climate Action (DG Clima) partly addressed the cost issue by talking about the EU Green Deal. The EU wants to meet its new targets but it also wants to let gross domestic product (GDP) rise whilst greenhouse emissions fall. The EU ETS is its principle vehicle for this but the commission is wary of changes, such as making modifications linked to CCS, in case it undermines the system. Discussions are ongoing as the work on the Green Deal continues.
IICCC was a wider forum beyond just what LEILAC is up to. To this extent the CC projects involve multiple partners, including those from other cement companies like Cemex and Tarmac (CRH) in LEILAC and Dyckerhoff (Buzzi Unicem), Schwenk Zement and Vicat in the oxyfuel project. The decarbonisation fair included representatives from Vicat’s FastCarb project and Polimi’s Cleanker. Speakers from the European Climate Foundation, Acatech, INEA, TCM, SINTEF and Lhoist were also present.
During one speaker discussion Calix was described as the 'Tesla' of industrial CC by one speaker, who said that, “…there is a genuine competitive opportunity for those bold enough to grasp it.” Calix’s managing director Phil Hodgson enjoyed the accolade but the point was that leading innovation or setting the agenda offers advantages. In the case of industrial CC for the cement industry, change feels a step closer.