Cement highlights from the Global Slag Conference 2018

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There is lots to mull over for the cement industry from last week’s Global Slag Conference that took place in Prague.

One striking map from Michael Connolly, TMS International, showed the status of slag and steel products in the US. It was a multi-coloured patchwork of different regulatory statuses from approval to be used as a product to regulatory exclusion. This won’t come as a surprise to many readers but even within one country the way slag can be used legally varies.

As this column reported last year after the Euroslag Conference, the European Union can be presented in a similar way. The irony here is that increased use of slag and other secondary cementitious materials (SCM) is exactly the kind of change the cement and concrete industries need to make to decrease their carbon emissions. Constant quibbles over whether slag is a product or a waste undermine this. Happily then that Connolly was able to report progress in the US as lobbying by industry and the US National Slag Association have led to more states legally accepting slag as a product.

However, cement producers have other concerns in addition to environmental ones when it comes to slag usage as Doug Haynes from Smithers Apex explained. Haynes, a former UK steel industry worker turned consultant, spoke around a market report on the future of ferrous slag. His take on Basic Oxygen Furnace (BOF) slag was that despite fuel savings, decreased CO2 emissions and the benefits of embodied iron when it is used as a raw material for clinker production, it is in the interests of cement producers for slag to be a waste because they then get it for free or at a reduced rate. It’s a similar story to the use of waste-derived fuels powering cement plant kilns where producers want lower fuel costs but waste collectors want value for their product. Unsurprisingly, Haynes wanted cement producers to accept the value embodied in BOF slag.

Charles Zeynel of ZAG International, an SCM trader, then laid out the situation where global SCM supplies are remaining static but cement demand is growing. Coal-fired power station closures are reducing supplies of fly ash, another SCM, placing pressure on existing granulated blast furnace slag (GBS) slag supplies. The message was very much in a slag trader’s favour but instructive nethertheless. If slag is in demand then the price will rise. Anecdotally, the increased number of cement producers at the conference seemed to indicate increased interest of the cement industry in the product.

Lots more speakers followed on topics such as slag beneficiation, grinding advances and new innovations. On grinding, one surprise that popped up was that Spain’s Cemengal has sold a Plug & Grind Vertical mill to CRH Tarmac’s cement plant at Dunbar in Scotland. It is the first such sale of this product in Europe. The last speaker, Jürgen Haunstetter of the German Aerospace Centre, stuck out particularly with his presentation on using slag as a thermal energy storage medium in a concentrated solar power (CSP) plant. This may not seem connected to the cement industry but it is along similar lines to Italcementi’s project at the Aït Baha cement plant in Morocco, which uses a CSP process that can be used with the plant’s waste heat recovery unit.

The Global Slag Conference will return in April 2019 in Aachen, Germany.

Read the full review of the 13th Global Slag Conference 2018

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