From grey to green: a much-needed sustainability revolution in India’s cement sector – ET Infra


India’s vision of a developed economy requires the ‘greenification’ of its cement sector through sustainable initiatives and collaborative efforts.

As the world’s fastest-growing big economy, India’s progress hinges on robust infrastructure. Good infrastructure promotes economic prosperity, while poor infrastructure hinders growth and opportunity. To achieve its goal of becoming a developed economy by 2047, India is rapidly advancing its infrastructure development. A key indicator of this progress is cement consumption.

Currently, India’s per capita cement consumption is less than 300 kg, which is only half of the global index. This low per capita consumption indicates significant room for growth. According to recent estimates by Investment Information and Credit Rating Agency (ICRA), cement demand in India may touch ~460 million metric tonnes (MT) by 2025, and the sector is projected to grow its capacity by 5% annually until March 2027.

Economic progress often comes at the cost of the environment. Cement industry in India accounts for ~7% of the country’s total CO 2 emissions, primarily due to its heavy reliance on coal.

In 2008, during China’s peak growth period, the country produced 1.135 billion MT of cement, with approximately 0.46 MT of emissions per MT of cement.

Today, in 2024, while India is producing 40% of China’s volumes in 2008, the specific emissions are comparable. Clinker dust and wastage during manufacturing and packaging, along with transportation leaks, exacerbate the environmental impact.

India has conveyed a deliberate commitment to become a net-zero emissions nation by 2070. This commitment reflects a delicate balance India is striving to achieve — fostering rapid economic growth while embracing sustainability. Therefore, the cement industry must embrace ‘green’ across different dimensions in the value chain – Power, Process, Product, and Preservation (post- processing).

By addressing each of these areas comprehensively, the industry can significantly reduce its environmental footprint while enhancing its overall sustainability.

Power: The cement sector relies heavily on power, and it constitutes approximately 30% of the cost of cement. The adoption of alternative fuels such as RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel), MSW (Municipal Solid Waste), agricultural and industrial wastes for power generation, governed by the Thermal Substitution Rate (TSR), is already underway in several organisations.

As the country increases its share of renewables in the energy mix, the sector can maximise its transition towards clean energy, reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and dirty power. Additionally, the quantum of specific power consumption can itself be optimised with AI-enhanced technologies, such as ‘Digital Twins’.

Process: Complete electrification of kilns in cement production is pivotal for reducing emissions and operating costs. Recently, a Finnish technology company has developed innovative rotodynamic heater (RDH) technology and is partnering with Indian cement giants to deploy this solution commercially by 2025. RDH heats air, nitrogen, and other gases to high temperatures outside the heater, eliminating the need for fossil fuels in process heating.

Capable of reaching temperatures up to 1700°C, RDH is a major electric technology suitable for replacing fossil-fired furnaces and kilns, thereby lowering thermal emissions by up to 40%.

Product: Developing environment friendly cement variants fundamentally changes the core product. Green cement, like magnesium-based Ekkomaxx Cement, is not only eco-friendly but also more durable and crack-resistant, making it better suited to withstand extreme temperatures.

Products like ECOPact, a low carbon concrete, may support sustainability by reducing emissions up to 70% compared to traditional methods. Alternative raw materials now include options like slag, clay, seashells, and industrial by-products. While the usage of fly-ash in Portland cement is increasing, researchers are exploring usage of pond ash with specific additives. This can boost coal waste utilisation from 40% to nearly 80%, reducing environmental impact and clinker usage.

Additionally, researchers are also exploring electric cement – a concept where waste concrete from demolished buildings are recycled as flux in an electric arc furnace to create new reactivated cement from steel slag.

Preservation: Another technology that can prove beneficial in reducing carbon emissions is carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS). This technology involves capturing emissions from industrial processes and storing or utilising them to prevent their release into the atmosphere.

A prominent cement manufacturer is currently working on this technology to curb emissions at its production
facility in Tamil Nadu. They have collaborated with a CCUS technology provider to build cement industry’s largest carbon capture plant, capturing and utilising up to 500,000 tonnes of CO 2 annually.

Collectively, new-age technologies have the potential to revolutionise cement manufacturing. While initial costs may deter some Indian companies, the long-term benefits outweigh the investment. The success of these initiatives hinges on active collaboration between the government and the industry.

To boost green initiatives, the government may facilitate MoUs for new technologies, promote R&D through incentivisation, provide subsidies, and give higher technical weightage to companies producing green cement in infrastructure projects.

In parallel, the cement industry should complement government actions by making green cement/ sustainability as a core objective with tangible Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) like Thermal Substitution Rate (TSR), leveraging AI- enhanced tools like “Digital Twins”.

Additionally, cement players must work on creating new blends with alternative fuels and raw materials to lower emissions. Other industries should also partner to develop sustainable solutions and promote procurement of green cement.

The cohesive approach to ‘Go Green’ is likely to reduce emissions by 50-70%, benefiting all stakeholders. India must develop to meet its current needs, without compromising the ability of ffuture generations to meet their own needs.

  • Published On Jun 11, 2024 at 11:35 AM IST

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