Cement production matters to all humanity. It is the most important area of industrial activity for reducing carbon emissions, the key driver for climate change and global warming. It is responsible for a greater share of carbon emissions than deforestation, global shipping and aviation combined.
Demand for cement will continue with the ongoing trend for urbanization. Cement is the active ingredient in concrete, and concrete is the most widely used material by humans, after water.
Roadmaps to decarbonize cement production rely heavily on Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) technologies that have yet to be proven at scale and are not yet commercially viable. To make CCUS commercially viable will require; carbon taxes to be well over US$100 per tonne, a stable regulatory environment for carbon, and significant investment in technology development. With these barriers removed, the technology could reach scale in the period 2040 to 2050, leaving emissions from cement production to continue for another 20 years from now.
The delay to any significant improvement until 2040 is too late: achieving reductions by 2030 is more important than achieving net zero in 2050 according to the latest research published by Nature.
This report assesses 20 technologies related to the decarbonization of cement production and models 13 with the potential to make an impact in the next decade. We created a model to assess the potential of each technology to reduce carbon emissions by 2030 and the expected costs of each technology. This report evaluates the results of our model and makes recommendations for cement producers, policymakers and investors.
Our assessment is that the combined impact of the 13 technologies would be to reduce emissions by 0.8 gigatonnes per annum for global cement production from 2.5 gigatonnes per annum in 2022 to 1.7 gigatonnes per annum in 2030. This is over double the reduction targeted by the International Energy Agency.
As a mature and stable industry, there are barriers to achieving these reductions, such as the capital investment required and operating cost increases. Focusing on the technologies which deliver a cost saving identifies five technologies in three groups that together achieve over 80% of the forecasted benefits for 2030:
Substitute Cementitious Materials (SCM) including LC3 Cement
Biomass and waste alternative fuels
AI for energy efficiency and SCM blending
Common barriers remain including: the commercial structure of vertically integrated cement producers; lack of market demand for low carbon cement; and prescriptive regulations on the specification of cement.
Beyond 2030 we highlight two technologies with longer term potential: “CCUS via oxyfuel” and graphene. Green hydrogen is often seen as a panacea for industrial decarbonization. We reject this as a viable solution for cement production due to the capital investment required in renewable electricity generation and hydrogen production by electrolysis, as well as the high demand from other industries such as steel production.
Whilst we put forward biomass as an opportunity for decarbonization, we suggest caution is required as carbon accounting methodologies may be flawed and incorrectly suggest that it is carbon neutral. Particularly when it is a contributing factor to deforestation.
Our recommendations include:
Cement producers should focus their resources on the three groups of cost saving technologies listed above to gain cost savings and a strategic advantage over their competitors.
Policymakers need to remove barriers to decarbonization of cement resulting from poor regulations and policies, including overhauling the design of the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme, mandating low carbon cement procurement for publicly funded projects, and regularly updating standards for cement quality/ performance to reflect new product innovation.
Investors should support the significant commercial opportunities for existing industry players, new entrants and technology providers.