Cement and carbon industry has potential to be carbon-negative. Polluter to climate solution

Numerous solutions have a role in decarbonising the cement and concrete industry, and combinations of solutions can provide it with the best chance of reaching its net zero goals.

Cement and carbon industry has potential to be carbon-negative. Polluter to climate solution
Photo by Charlie Costello / Unsplash

The global effort to decarbonize cement and concrete production is vital for achieving the 2050 net zero goals and limiting global warming to a 1.5°C increase from pre-industrial levels. Innovations are needed not just to reduce carbon emissions from existing processes but to fundamentally change how cement is produced, including the shift from carbon-intensive Portland Cement to alternatives that reduce the amount of clinker needed—a major source of CO2 emissions in the industry.

The First Movers Coalition (FMC) launched the First Suppliers Hub in January 2024, acting as a repository of suppliers and technologies aimed at decarbonizing high-emissions sectors by 2030. With over 80 projects, including more than 30 in the cement & concrete sector, it showcases the technologies’ maturity and readiness to meet decarbonization goals.

Alternative processes and materials are being developed, with some solutions potentially being carbon-negative. Examples include Brimstone’s pilot scale plant in Nevada, creating Portland Cement and supplementary materials from carbon-free silicate rock, which also yields magnesium residues that bind CO2, removing it from the atmosphere permanently. Sublime’s projects employ an ambient-temperature electrochemical process to produce hydraulic cement from non-carbonate rocks and industrial feedstocks, reducing emissions significantly.

Companies like CarbonBuilt, Chement, and Fortera are innovating to reduce emissions through low carbon binders, renewable electricity usage, and more efficient use of electric kilns. The Decarbonized Cement & Concrete Alliance, including these companies, is at the forefront of such innovations.

Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technology is another critical element, capturing carbon from clinker production to reduce atmospheric CO2 emissions. The Global Cement & Concrete Association's net zero roadmap emphasizes re-evaluating CO2 as a usable commodity, with CCUS projected to contribute 36% of CO2 reductions by 2050.

Supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) are also key to reducing the clinker-binder ratio, thereby reducing emissions. The introduction of alternative SCMs, like calcined clay, is becoming increasingly important as fossil-based SCM availability declines.

The article underscores the potential for the cement and concrete industry to not only reduce its carbon footprint but to become carbon-negative through innovative technologies, materials, and processes. This shift could transform one of the world's most polluting industries into a key player in climate solutions.