Pushing the Energy Envelope not Enough
Cement is something we cannot do without, at least not as yet, not in the foreseeable future. In fact, consumption of cement by a nation is still considered a reflection of health and progress of the economy, and rightly so. Cement is the byword for construction, and construction is the only indicator for housing, infrastructure, et al. Contrast this with the fact that cement is an energy intensive manufacturing process, emitting 4-5 per cent of global CO2 emissions, consuming limestone from earth's crust which in itself is a depleting natural resources, all of which go towards earning an undesirable tag of unsustainability for the cement industry. This seems to be a quintessential example of the famous contradiction between development and environment.
Let it be known, that the cement industry has been continuously pushing the envelope in energy efficiency, globally, and particularly so in India, making incremental improvements through technical initiatives, and more so, by increasing the proportion of blended cements in the product mix. The specific CO2 emission in kg/tonne of cement has been slowly, but steadily coming down, so much so, that today India may be one of the best, if not the best in the world in specific energy consumption per tonnes of cement. This is no mean achievement. There might be some more incremental opportunities for further reductions if our cement players are able to take full advantage of recent regulatory relaxations in the areas of composite cements. But all these are not going to fundamentally change the picture of unsustainability. There is this alarming study which predicts that beyond the year 2050, no known limestone reserves will be available any more, to support new cement plant investments. That possibility in itself, is frightening. And the only measure that can reverse this definitively, is disruptive changes in cement product technology, not incremental improvements.
It has been the position of industry observers that no substantive investments into research to find cement alternatives have been made by the well entrenched industry players, and for good reason! All the efforts to innovate alternative cements, to synthesize cement substitutes, if at all, are being led unfortunately by non-cement entities or by universities, who, obviously, do not have vested interests in perpetuating the stranglehold of traditional cement.
It is in this context, that one can view the recent announcement by OGCI Climate Investments having made in an investment to support the adoption of Solidia's patented cement and concrete technology using CO2. To elaborate, the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) is a CEO-led initiative of 10 oil and gas companies that collaborate on action to lead the industry response to climate change. OGCI Climate Investments, its billion dollar investment arm, supports the development, deployment and scale up of new technologies that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"We believe that Solidia Technologies' product and process can provide a step change in lowering the greenhouse gas and water footprint of the cement and concrete industry," said OGCI Climate Investments CEO, Dr Pratima Rangarajan. "We are committed to helping them commercialise on a global scale to increase the adoption of their carbon recycling technology."
Solidia's technologies start with sustainable Solidia Cement and cure Solidia Concrete with CO2 instead of water, reducing carbon emissions up to 70 per cent and recycling 60-80 per cent of the water used in production. "Bringing a sustainable technology to market is impossible without support from investors like OGCI Climate Investments," said
Solidia CEO, Tom Schuler.
"It's admirable that leaders in oil and gas have come together to address climate change. Their commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through funding ground-breaking solutions will speed adoption."
OGCI aims to show sector leadership in the response to climate change. OGCI is made up of oil and gas companies that collaborate on action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The only exception among the OGCI investors is Lafarge Holcim, which sticks out like sore thumb as the only cement producer funding this path breaking work.
Exceptions do prove the rule!
Sumit Banerjee Chairman, Editorial Advisory Board