Cement giants flip to inexperienced hydrogen, carbon seize to curb emissions

The device is in a converted shipping container.

RICE, Energy Security Research Institute, Swansea University

A subsidiary of the multinational building materials company HeidelbergCement is working with researchers from Swansea University to install and operate a demonstration unit for green hydrogen at a location in the UK

The collaboration is another example of how companies involved in energy-intensive processes are looking for ways to maintain productivity while reducing emissions.

In a statement last week, Swansea University said the green hydrogen unit, housed in a converted shipping container, has been installed at Hanson UK’s Regen GGBS facility in the town of Port Talbot, South Wales.

The term GGBS refers to ground granulated blast furnace slag that can be used in place of cement in concrete production.

The effects of cement production on the environment are significant. According to a 2018 report by the British think tank Chatham House, over 4 billion tons of cement are produced annually. According to the political institute, this corresponded to around 8% of global CO2 emissions.

Regen GGBS, while having a smaller carbon footprint than Portland cement, remains an energy-intensive product that requires significant amounts of electricity and natural gas.

According to Swansea University, the idea behind the Port Talbot project is “to replace some of the natural gas used in the facility with green hydrogen, which is considered a clean source of energy as it only gives off water when burned”.

The facility at the Hanson UK site produces hydrogen through electrolysis, which splits water into oxygen and hydrogen.

When the electricity comes from renewable sources – the project in Wales uses on-site wind and solar panels – the end product is called “green hydrogen”.

The system was put together as part of the Industrial Carbon Emission Reduction initiative led by the Energy Safety Research Institute at Swansea University.

In a statement, Charlie Dunnill, a lecturer at ESRI, described cement making as “one of the most energy and carbon intensive industries, and therefore a perfect place to have an impact on carbon reduction”.

Last week, the world’s largest cement company, LafargeHolcim, also announced that it would be part of a collaboration to “explore” the development of carbon capture and storage solutions.

In a statement, the company said it will “study the feasibility of carbon capture” at two facilities, one in Europe and one in North America, using Schlumberger New Energy’s carbon sequestration technology.

The United States Geological Survey describes carbon sequestration as “the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide”. Carbon capture can occur naturally – for example through forests – or through man-made systems developed by humans.

Cement making is just an industrial process that can be significantly improved in terms of emissions and other sustainability metrics.

The production of aluminum is different. BMW recently announced that it has started sourcing and using aluminum, made using solar power, for example.

In an interview with CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” last Friday, the CFO of aluminum manufacturer Hydro spoke about the market for more sustainable offers.

“We are seeing a demand for our specific products, Hydro REDUXA and Hydro CIRCAL, which are low carbon or recycled … and really pick up again,” said Pal Kildemo.

“And we can charge a premium for these products compared to other ‘more normal’ products.”

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