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There is considerable pressure coming on the cement and concrete industry to decarbonise. Good progress has already been made – here in Ireland the carbon footprint of a typical bag of cement is 20% lower today than in 1990. But much more needs to be done to achieve our sector’s stated ambition of climate neutrality by 2050. This pathway to neutrality for the cement, concrete and construction industry is detailed in the Cembureau, (European Cement Association) publication ‘Cementing the Green Deal’.
Ireland has abundant high-quality limestone reserves which have been used by the members of CMI as the key ingredient in cement for more than 80 years. Limestone, which is predominantly calcium carbonate gives rise to over 60% of our industry’s carbon emissions when subjected to the high temperature in cement kilns. Cement factories require a minimum temperature of 1,450OC to, in simple terms, melt the raw materials. Over decades, significant investments and innovations by our members have reduced the carbon intensity of our operations; by reducing the clinker content of the cement and investing in more energy efficient cement factories. In addition our members recognise further carbon reduction opportunities of becoming more circular, by improved resource efficiency, reduced virgin raw material consumption and having access to already decarbonated raw materials.
The combustion of fuel accounts for the remaining 40% of carbon emissions. The industry has been reducing these emissions by replacing fossil fuels with biomass and alternative fuels. A unique feature of the cement industry is that we simultaneously recover energy and recycle minerals from a variety of waste streams (a process known as co-processing). Co-processing puts the cement industry at the heart of the circular economy and plays a key role in providing local waste management capacity. Replacing fossil fuels with the alternative fuels directly reduces carbon dioxide emissions. In line with the 2019 Climate Action Plan target for the cement kilns to achieve 80% fossil fuel replacement by 2030 all four cement kilns have ambitious programmes to minimise fossil fuel use over the coming decade.
For our members, manufacturing high quality cement from local resources is our primary goal and the fact that co-processing in our high temperature manufacturing process allows us to return discarded resources into the circular economy is an added benefit to our members and the wider community.
The use of discarded resources in the kilns in place of fossil fuel not only uses the energy value of waste but also recycles the non-combustible elements in the waste. How this contributes to the circular economy is perhaps best illustrated by the case study ‘Aluminium’ – circular economy in the cement industry. Case study see appendix A
Concrete which is essential to our built environment and modern way of life, is a fundamentally circular material meeting many of the attributes of circularity; it is manufactured using local resources, creating local jobs, with short and resilient supply chains. Concrete structures can be re-used, repaired and refurbished ensuring the resources have a long and productive life in our buildings and infrastructure and at the end of life concrete is 100% recyclable.
Our members are researching a number of promising fractions of end-of-life concrete and construction and demolition (C&D) wastes that can be taken back into our cement manufacturing process as raw materials, which will help us to reduce the use of virgin raw materials and give our members access already decarbonated raw materials.
Currently CMI members use approximately 250,000 tonnes of alternative fuels each year to replace fossil fuels. Solid Recovered Fuel (SRF) made from non-recyclable materials sourced from Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) makes up the majority of the alternative fuels we use today. Based on the anticipated availability of suitable feedstock and the capacity and expertise in the waste management sector, who manufacture SRF, we believe it will continue to be an important fuel to 2030. By 2030 we estimate that the four cement kilns in Ireland will be using 500,000 tonnes of alternative fuels. Of this, 400,000 tonnes will be SRF, with the remaining fuels likely to be meat and bonemeal, tyres and solvents.
These fossil fuel replacement programmes, support the sustainable operation of the cement factories, directly reduce carbon emissions from the factories and help to avoid waste management sector emissions through the reduced need for incineration and landfill.
Our members cement factory and quarry sites contain a wide variety of habitats which support rich biodiverse communities of plants and animals. Because of the extractive nature of our process our industry has changed the landscape and in doing so has created a more varied and diverse set of habitats. Despite being active industrial sites, due to their size some areas can remain largely undisturbed. Over years many of these habitats have regenerated or ‘re-wilded’. In some of the inactive or older areas of the quarry rich vegetation has returned and especially where there is standing water a wide range of insects, birds and mammals can be seen. In addition to the quarries and lakes, there are also reedbeds, marsh lands, both calcareous (because of the limestone) and wet grasslands, petrifying springs ( unusual habitats formed when calcium-rich water deposits a soft, porous rock known as ‘tufa’ on the ground), scrub vegetation, hedgerows and mature woodland. This rich mosaic of different habitats supports the wide diversity of plants and animals.
Working in Harmony
Our members have also lent nature a helping hand, planting thousands or trees and allowing flower-rich meadows to flourish. These meadows provide food for pollinators and in turn many bird species that feed on these insects. Sand Martin colonies in the quarries have been protected; quarry blasts are scheduled to avoid disturbing the cliff nesting birds like, Ravens and Peregrines. The workforce in each of the sites takes great pride in the abundance of nature on the sites where they work. On some sites they have developed good practice initiatives to protect the wildlife, for example circling large rocks to protect ground nesting birds from large quarry machinery.
Our goal is to recognise these practices and develop long-term Biodiversity Strategies that build on the current knowledge and working with outside organisations to help us to operate our cement factory in harmony with the natural environment. Our members are proud of the rich biodiversity we have on our sites. We have a responsibility to protect what already exists and enhance opportunities for wildlife to flourish.