Leading cement and concrete makers commit to net zero by 2050

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Many of the world’s leading cement and concrete makers have recently pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050, but their long-term plans may not sufficiently address air quality issues and other health risks. related to industrial operations in Indiana.

Dozens of international companies, including two companies operating in Indiana, and their subsidiaries, have signed net-zero commitments from industry trade organizations to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Global Cement and Concrete Association’s Concrete Future Roadmap and the Portland Cement Association’s Carbon Neutral Roadmap would deliver on this commitment through the transformation of cement and concrete production and the methods used to create buildings. and other infrastructure.

The plan would directly affect cement plants, terminals and quarries in Indiana owned by Buzzi Unicem USA and Lehigh Hanson Inc.

“There is currently no single process, product or technology that can bring our industry to carbon neutrality, but even if there were, looking at clinker, cement and concrete in isolation does not get us to the desired end. – a durable, safe and resilient product and an energy-efficient, low-carbon built environment, which is why PCA member companies are embarking on this journey to carbon neutrality as an industry in their own right and invite others across the value chain to join the effort,” said Massimo Toso, CEO of Buzzi Unicem USA.

Cement and concrete are used to build structures, roads and other infrastructure important to the US economy. The cement industry accounts for around 6% of gross domestic product.

Around 4.6 billion tonnes of cement were manufactured globally in 2020, producing around 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Cement is made by extracting materials like limestone, shale, iron ore and clay, then crushing them and heating them at high temperatures to form clinker, chunks of molten material the size of a marble. The clinker is then very finely ground to produce Portland cement, which is mixed with water and other ingredients to make concrete.

According to the Portland Cement Association, the chemical reaction that converts calcium carbonate in limestone to the calcium oxide used in clinker is responsible for 60% of carbon dioxide emissions from cement manufacturing. The energy-intensive combustion used to heat the clinker is responsible for the remaining 40%.

“There is no way around this step and there is no viable alternative that can be produced at the scale needed,” the PCA said.

The industry’s climate roadmap maps changes to the production process that would modestly reduce carbon emissions over the next decade, but could pave the way for further reductions between 2030 and 2050.

The plan would require cement makers to use already processed decarbonated raw materials instead of newly mined materials. The PCA estimates that the use of decarbonated raw materials could double by 2050.

The roadmap also calls for replacing traditional fossil fuels like coal and petroleum coke in the combustion process and improving energy efficiency. The PCA said it currently takes 3.84 million British thermal units, around six times the average energy used in a household in a year, to produce one metric tonne of clinker.

The plan also involves adopting the “beneficial use” of coal combustion residues, also known as coal ash, and technological advances that have yet to prove viable, such as carbon capture and sequestration. carbon.

Major cement manufacturers have already attempted to adopt long-term sustainability plans.

In 2002, 10 major cement manufacturers, including Lehigh Hanson’s parent company, HeidelbergCement, released their Sustainability Action Agenda, a plan to address climate change and other cement production issues. cement. The agenda met with limited success.

“The reality is that the cement and concrete industry will still emit CO2 in 2050; however, through direct reductions, avoidance measures and the attributes of using concrete structures, the industry can completely offset its CO2 emissions,” Toso said.

The cement industry roadmap could result in lower carbon dioxide emissions in the long term, but it’s unclear whether the plan would also address other health issues currently affecting Hoosiers and other Americans. .

Besides carbon dioxide, the cement manufacturing process also emits large amounts of other greenhouse gases and pollutants, making it the third largest source of industrial pollution in the United States.

The industry has been accused of multiple Clean Air Act violations at its facilities in Indiana and elsewhere in the United States.

In June, a Greencastle cement plant owned by Buzzi Unicem USA subsidiary Lone Star Industries Inc. paid $729,000 in fines and millions of dollars in plant upgrades to settle alleged CAA violations involving excessive particulate and carbon monoxide emissions.

Particles can enter the lungs or bloodstream and aggravate existing respiratory and cardiovascular health problems in humans or cause other problems such as irregular heartbeat, respiratory tract irritation, coughing and difficulty breathing .

Carbon monoxide can reduce the amount of oxygen carried in the blood and vital organs and worsen the health of people with heart disease, including causing chest pain. At very high levels indoors, carbon monoxide can also cause death.

In December 2019, Lehigh Hanson Inc. paid $1.3 million in civil penalties and $12 million in plant upgrades to address alleged CAA violations related to excessive sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions. nitrogen oxide at its Mitchell cement plant and 10 other plants in various other states.

Sulfur dioxide can make it difficult to breathe and can harm trees by damaging leaves and stunting growth.

Nitrogen oxide can irritate the airways and cause other respiratory symptoms. Long-term exposure to nitrogen oxide can contribute to the development of asthma and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections.

Together, the gases can form acid rain, a form of acid precipitation that can damage buildings and other man-made structures and corrode metal.

In 2016, HeidelbergCement acquired the company that owned Essroc Cement Co., which in 2011 settled alleged CAA violations involving excessive sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions at six plants, including two plants in Logansport and Speed. The settlement cost the company $1.7 million in civil penalties and $33 million in plant upgrades.

The researchers found that producing cleaner concrete could reduce air pollution by 14% and costs related to climate and health damage by 44%.

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