The cement industry is the world’s second largest industrial emitter of CO2 after steel, accounting from more than 6% of global emissions. If the European cement sector were a country, it would emit as much CO2 as Belgium.
The Norcem Brevik Norway is well on the way to becoming the world’s first carbon-free cement plant, a move that could reverberate across the globe as 197 countries meet for the UN’s annual climate conference in Katowice, Poland.
In 2013, the factory set out an ambitious goal: becoming the first zero-emission cement plant in the world. Various solutions have been tested since then, all of them using carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology pioneered in Norway which involves catching CO2 emissions at source and injecting them underground.
Norcem Brevik is already among the leading cement plants in Europe when it comes to using alternative fuels coming from waste. The plant has already managed to substitute 70% of its fuel use with waste-based alternatives, such as paper, textiles, and plastics, as well as hazardous waste. Altogether, these have the potential to address around one-third of the plant’s total CO2 emissions.
But the CCS installation is the crown jewel that could make the plant 100% carbon-free. Indeed, the remaining two-thirds of cement emissions come from the process of decomposing limestone to produce clinker, which is then ground with gypsum and fly ash to obtain cement.
That process requires large amounts of heat and releases CO2 in the form of flue gas. And the whole process is CO2-intensive. “For each tonne of clinker, we produce half a tonne of CO2,” Brevik explains.
In the first stage, the CCS installation will capture just half of the plant’s CO2 emissions, in order to maintain investments and operating costs to a minimum. “If this is a success – and I think it will be – we will start making plans to reach 100%,” he says.
The project’s long-term viability is not guaranteed, however, and depends largely on public financing. A final feasibility study will be published in August 2019 that will inform a Norwegian government proposal to invest in building the full-scale facility. If the Parliament approves it, the project will enter a three-year construction phase.