“The Canadian cement industry is on a steady path of continuous improvement,” notes Adam Auer, Director of Sustainability and Stakeholder Relations at the Cement Association of Canada (CAC) and the CIPEC Cement Sector Task Force Chair. He is commenting on the recently released annual Labor-Energy Input Survey by the U.S.-based Portland Cement Association, which reports on trends for both the U.S. and the Canadian cement industry.
In general, the survey shows that cement industry energy consumption in 2012 decreased from previous years. This is confirmed by the CAC’s 2012 Environmental Performance Report, which reports data from a Canada-specific analysis of energy use, among other environmental metrics. That report, which covers the 2000 to 2010 period, shows a downward trend in average cement CO2 intensity. Auer explains that this is largely due to the Canadian industry’s conversion to lower carbon Contempra™ cement, increased use of supplementary cementitious material and an increasing use of low carbon fuels in cement manufacturing. Similarly, air emissions (e.g., NOx, SOx, particulate matter) have been relatively stable or on a general decline since 2002.
Over the past 10 years, there has also been a general trend of improved energy efficiency due to a reduction in both thermal and electrical energy use. In fact, the sector has achieved an 11-percent increase in efficiency since 2007. Auer notes that the improvements largely come from gains in thermal efficiency. With climate change being a major driver for energy efficiency improvements, increasing thermal efficiency, which is the best way to reduce the industry’s CO2 emissions, is important to the industry – “We get the biggest bang for our buck here,” notes Auer.
Auer explains that, across Canada, the industry invested in major capital upgrades in the 1990s resulting in the newest and most efficient plants in North America. “We are now in another cycle of capital improvements that will focus on innovation and technology to achieve efficiencies.” The cement industry will continue to see incremental improvements, says Auer, but notes that the costs of these incremental achievements have gone up.
He notes that the fuel mix depends not only on fuel prices but also on the production capacity of each fuel (e.g., coal has more capacity than natural gas). So while coal and petroleum coke use remain the same, the trend is towards using low carbon fuels. Auer explains that the industry is looking at the use of biomass as well as certain non-recyclable by-products from other industries that would otherwise end up in landfills (e.g., construction and demolition waste, which contains high levels of waste biomass.) “The proportion of alternative fuel used depends on the jurisdiction and varies between 30 percent of fuel mix in Quebec to two percent in Ontario. In Europe, substitution rates are as high as 60 percent. The increased use of low carbon fuels is one of the biggest levers to reduce CO2 emissions in our industry,” explains Auer.
One of the big news stories for the Canadian cement industry is ISO 50001 certification, with large savings already achieved by early adopters such as St. Marys Cement Inc. (Canada). Other ways that the industry has achieved improvements has been to control the quality of the raw mix, optimize the fuel mix, manage kiln efficiencies, invest in heat recovery systems, and optimize compressed air use.
Auer summarizes saying that “our biggest priority is increasing our capacity for substituting virgin fossil fuels with low carbon fuels.” He adds that the industry is constantly looking for and finding efficiencies to keep energy use and emissions on a downward trend but notes that new disruptive technologies will be needed to drive deeper reductions.
Excerpted from Heads Up CIPEC, March 2014