Solving for Sustainability in the Cement Industry

Creating sustainable cement is certainly the biggest challenge the industry faces and given the sheer size of the industry – its global dominance, economic importance and our reliance – there are no easy answers.

Cement has many uses and is one of the most fundamental building blocks of infrastructure projects worldwide, from roads, airports, houses, skyscrapers, and even harbours. And it’s a key driver in the global economy. According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the cement sector contributes 5.4% to the global GDP and 7.7% of the world’s employment. But it is also a contributor to climate change, responsible for around 8% of global Carbon Dioxide emissions alone, making it one of the largest sources of greenhouse gasses. 

Creating sustainable cement is certainly the biggest challenge the industry faces and given the sheer size of the industry – its global dominance, economic importance and our reliance – there are no easy answers. 

Governments, industries, and consumers around the world struggle to reduce greenhouse gasses while not stifling industrial growth or economic development. The cement industry, which is an important economic link, can, if it works together, be a leader in fighting climate change. 

The cement industry, which is an important economic link, can, if it works together, be a leader in fighting climate change. 

From consumers and stakeholders alike, there is huge pressure from all sides to change the way cement is manufactured. The status quo is simply not an option, and the manufacturers who innovate will thrive, taking a larger market share, and those who refuse will be seen as out of touch. Thankfully the industry is conducting a significant amount of research on how to tackle climate change without sacrificing quality or quantity of production so the industry can be viable for future generations. 

The Three Pillars of Sustainability 

There is no universal agreement on the definition of sustainability, but for the purpose of this article, we will define it as meeting the needs of the present economic and environmental population without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. 

The three pillars of sustainability are a widely accepted model used to think about and tackle not just environmental issues within the industry but also the impact on a global scale. John Elkington, the co-founder of the sustainability consultancy firm SustainAbility was one of the first people to see sustainability as not just a straightforward idea of cutting carbon emissions. He realized sustainability was a far more complex, interlocking idea with an integrated solution that involves the need to re-design complete business models. Taking this three-pillar approach, the cement industry can begin to work towards a holistic approach to solving environmental problems.  

The three pillars of sustainability are: 

  • Social equality
    • Environmental protection 
    • Economic viability 

Much focus is placed on the environmental pillar for obvious reasons, but each of the pillars has a sphere of influence that holds the other up. Without economic viability, there is no industry and without social equality, there are no or at least fewer consumers to use the product and thrive. The cement industry must have all three to be truly sustainable. However, when it comes to the cement industry, it’s no doubt the environmental pillar which is the most challenging.

There are significant challenges in reducing the environmental impact of cement in all stages of production but there are also innovative solutions.  

A Sustainability Solution 

One of the easiest areas to reduce carbon emissions is to reduce the number of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, petroleum and natural gas used in making cement and replace them with alternative fuel sources such as biomass. This is significant because it not only reduces emissions but since fossil fuels are expensive, it can also reduce the cost of overall production. 

Some cement companies have also discovered a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through the production of concrete itself. The emissions are captured while making the clinkers and then interjected into the mix process. The carbon dioxide is captured forever because it reacts to become part of the mix, so even if the cement is destroyed in the future, the carbon dioxide is not released back into the environment. 

The carbon dioxide is captured forever because it reacts to become part of the mix, so even if the cement is destroyed in the future, the carbon dioxide is not released back into the environment. 

Since the production of the clinkers is the energy-intensive step in the process, cement manufacturing companies are finding ways to use fewer clinkers in the mix while achieving the same quality. They do this by blending the cement clinkers with other materials such as fly ash, grounded granulated blast-furnace slag or additional silica. 

A simple and efficient way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is by sourcing material from sustainable sources like carbon-neutral mines and buying raw materials from environmentally responsible companies. Cement manufacturers can start to accomplish this is by using high-grade silica from mining operations similar to Sinova which increasingly see the benefits of environmental sustainability. 

A simple and efficient way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is by sourcing material from sustainable sources like carbon-neutral mines and buying raw materials from environmentally responsible companies.

While strictly not a part of the cement mixer process, yet another way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to include silica fume, which is a by-product from the production of elemental silicon, into the concrete blend. Silica fume, which is typically around 85 percent silicon dioxide, is collected and added to the cement. Adding by-products like silica fume lowers the actual amount of cement used for concrete which reduces overall emissions. 

Conclusion 

At Sinova, we provide the very best low-emission silica which can be used in the cement mix or added afterwards as silica fume. Either way, it reduces carbon emissions, making the entire cement or concrete process more environmentally friendly. 

We believe sustainability is more than just lowering greenhouse gasses. It’s providing a system that works for all, giving future generations an effective, energy-efficient way of making cement to produce the building blocks of infrastructure projects to come. 

Sinova is committed to sustainable economic growth by providing silica that enables the decarbonization of the environment without sacrificing quality or profitability. We do this by delivering the purest, highest-grade silica on the market. Our team is passionate about the environment and aims to further incorporate the three pillars of sustainability into our business operations.