The publication of Holcim’s sustainability report has made me think about the high embodied impacts that cement brings. Some progress is under way but it is not enough.
Here are the numbers:
Cement production is highly energy intensive. The energy to make one tonne of clinker was 3466MJ in 2013, a reduction from 4500MJ in 1990. But production has increased significantly. For example Holcim’s cement production has increased by almost 120% since 1990 and even energy from coal and pet coke has increased by 25% despite a 14% use of waste as an alternative fuel. So cement growth for Holcim is pushing for 25% growth in coal and pet coke.
The most worrying part is that Holcim is actually the best in the industry (lowest carbon intensity) with net emissions of 572kg of CO2 per tonne of cement.
They aim to reduce that by 25% by 2015 and are on track.
The cement industry could be much more ambitious. It’s easy to point fingers when we have achieved a 90% absolute reduction but that’s not my point. They have instant options, for example – they could reduce the reliance on clinker by using slag from blade furnaces and other alternative materials.
Outside of the industry there is a compelling argument to reduce the demand for cement. Buildings can be designed so that they use less cement and still deliver decent thermal mass and high insulating values. This offers huge opportunities and much more scope for innovation. Architects, urban planners and infrastructure developers have the biggest leverage.
That obviously cannibalises the cement industry but it also offers opportunity to a new business model that sells less tonnes and more value. Innovations at product level that lead to premium products and services will have to be the key driver to decarbonise the cement industry.
Source: Holcim’s sustainability report