When people talk about climate change, they most likely think about recent natural disasters, like the blazing wildfires out west or the ice shelves collapsing in the Arctic. The main cause of climate change is burning fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide into the air. In turn, the planet heats up. One of the primary culprits of this practice? The cement industry. A quick note: while cement and concrete are typically used interchangeably, cement is an important ingredient in making concrete. You can read more about the difference here.
In an article briefing the history of concrete, the Guardian’s Jonathan Watts didn’t hold back from vilifying the industry. He writes, “If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world with up to 2.8bn tonnes, surpassed only by China and the US.” Concrete and cement are detrimental to the planet. Because of its structural sturdiness, though, it’s easier to point to materials like plastic as the sole contributor.
Using concrete and cement isn’t sustainable anymore. Cement alone accounts for 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions. There’s a desperate need for innovation in this space — let’s see who’s working toward that goal now.
China’s attempt to roll back their cement consumption
The country leading the charge on reforming the cement industry is China, with 3,765 companies and 5,269 technologies. There are a total of 5,813 companies and 10,201 technologies globally, which means that China alone accounts for 65% of total companies and 52% of total technologies. However, China pours 60% of the world’s cement, and approximately 1.6 million Chinese citizens die each year from respiratory illnesses that can be caused by particles created from cement production. In 2018, a Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) plant was developed in Wuhu, China. This plant separates and purifies 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. Reports emphasized that the gains from the plant are minute compared to the overall cement production in China.
In the works are inventions for foamed concrete, zero-emission treatment processes, and air-purifying coating powder. China’s shift toward carbon dioxide emission friendly tech is promising. They’re going to need an inundation of companies to start making an impact, though.
In an extremely far second is the US with 122 companies and 220 technologies in the space. Seeing as the US is the second in carbon dioxide emissions from cement production, this number is shockingly low. There are competitions such as the Carbon XPRIZE competition, which encourage innovations to turn carbon dioxide emissions into useful products. As well, companies like Solidia are implementing new processes to make their concrete suck up the carbon dioxide emissions as it’s made. However, there needs to be an enormous influx of companies to the market to scale these practices efficiently.
The rest of the world’s countries land in double digits: Russia at 85, Canada at 44, and Australia at 28. There’s an overwhelming consensus to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In 2018, the World Cement Association held its first-ever global climate change forum to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. Yet, there aren’t policy incentives being implemented to invest in new technologies or regulate the industry. These numbers reflect that sentiment.
Top market players
Although China leads the global market, Halliburton Energy Services leads the market with 262 total technologies, primarily in Europe and the US. Their newest technologies have been focused on ways to make cement, including a long-lasting seal for well integrity and a real-time visualization of fracture placements. In November 2020, Halliburton announced its plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. They’re striving to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Jeff Miller, president and CEO, said, “Our industry plays an important role in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and provides us a great opportunity to do what we do best: innovate, collaborate, and execute to drive efficiencies and affect change.”
China-based company Jiang Wenlan has 152 technologies. The majority of their innovations focus on production methods of burning-free ingredients to protect the environment and reduce emissions.
In a far third with 82 technologies across six countries is 3M Innovative Properties. Earlier this year, 3M announced their commitment to the Paris Agreement and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. They’re targeting a 50% reduction by 2030. They’ve developed Natural Pozzolans, a material derived from volcanic rock as a partial replacement of cement in concrete. The majority of their cement usage is for dental purposes, such as root canal fillings and cavity liners.
Rethinking the cement industry
These numbers are the beginning to reimagining the way cement is produced. Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) technology, while expensive, will hopefully be integrated in cement production. The aforementioned Carbon XPRIZE was won by CarbonCure Technologies and UCLA CarbonBuilt. Both companies effectively reduced concrete’s carbon footprint.
Achieving zero-carbon cement is an ambitious goal that must be reached to stop climate change. If you want to get involved in this burgeoning field and need research insights to guide your team, schedule a demo with us today to check out our dashboard.