Sustainable Industry

Brazil is the country that emits the lowest amount of CO2 per ton of cement produced in the world

The cement sector promotes actions to further reduce its greenhouse gas emissions – its emissions correspond to one third of the world average

Cement is a key input in the construction supply chain, and is the main component of concrete, the second most consumed construction material on the planet after water, according to the Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA).

Brazil appears in a leading position in the database as the country that emits the lowest amount of CO2, per ton of cement produced in the world.

It’s not hard to understand why this is so. Cement is a critical element in the development of a country’s infrastructure. It is the primary element for the construction of houses, schools, hospitals, roads, railways, ports, airports, sanitation and energy works, and many other facilities that provide health and well-being to citizens and meet the requirements of modern life.

As a developing country, Brazil has an important infrastructure program to be implemented. In addition, population growth, alongside ever-increasing urbanization rates, is expected to boost the demand for cement in the coming decades.

However, cement production – a complex, raw material and energy intensive industrial process – poses a huge challenge given the climate crisis. It is a greenhouse gas (GHG) intensive process. Globally, the cement industry accounts for about 7% of all carbon dioxide emitted by humans.

Locally, however, the cement industry is a source of good news. Given how the sector has been operating in Brazil for decades, as well as the profile of national emissions itself, this share drops to almost a third of the world average. This corresponds to 2.3% according to the National Inventory of Anthropogenic Emissions and Removals of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) not controlled by the Montreal Protocol (which is part of the National Communication of Brazil to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC).

Its mode of operation is in line with the strategy of the National Confederation of Industry (CNI) towards a low-carbon economy, in particular as it refers to energy transition and the circular economy.

The carbon agenda is so important and strategic to the international cement industry that nearly 20 years ago the sector created what is now hailed as the largest database of emissions and environmental indicators for an industrial sector in the world. This database is fed by 48 of the planet’s largest cement companies and eight industry associations, covering nearly 850 factories worldwide. Brazil appears in a leading position in the database as the country that emits the lowest amount of CO2 per ton of cement produced in the world in 25 of the nearly 30 years of the historical series.

But this prominent position presents an enormous challenge – producing the cement required for the country’s development while seeking solutions to further reduce CO2 emissions. This is what led to the need to draw up a roadmap of the future challenges facing the sector, as well as strategies to find the solutions.

Cement Technology Roadmap – Faced with the challenge of finding ways to further reduce its CO2 emissions, the cement industry in Brazil – in collaboration with the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and experts from universities and technology centers in the country – developed the Cement Technology Roadmap, one of the most ambitious projects in the sector in recent decades, and a pioneer initiative among other Brazilian industrial sectors.

It mapped various scenarios and alternatives that could accelerate the sector’s low-carbon transition in the short, medium and long term leading to 2050. The alternatives focus on four main pillars.

Alternatives – The first pillar includes actions to accelerate the transition and is related to alternative raw materials, additions and substitutes for clinker – an intermediate cement product – such as steel slag, fly ash and limestone filler.

The second pillar covers alternative fuels, i.e., power-generating biomass and waste to replace non-renewable fossil fuels.

The third pillar includes energy efficiency measures through investments in product lines and equipment with lower thermal and/or electrical consumption.

Finally, the fourth pillar refers to innovative and emerging technologies through research and development in disruptive technologies such as carbon capture.

“Based on these scenarios, the industry expects to reduce its projected emissions by 33%, i.e., 22 MtCO2eq by 2050, or 420 MtCO2eq, cumulatively over the entire period. This would entail reducing the current carbon intensity of Brazil’s cement production from 564 kg of CO2 per ton of cement (international reference) to 375 kg CO2/t cement by 2050,” says Camillo Penna, president of the National Union of the Cement Industry (SNIC) and of the Brazilian Association of Portland Cement (ABCP).

The proposed options include the use of alternative raw materials, or additions, which would account for 69% of the sector’s reduction potential, while alternative fuels would account for 13%. Energy efficiency and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) measures would each account for 9% of the potential.

Short term – Short-term actions to accelerate the potential areas described in the roadmap included expanded use of additions or alternative raw materials as a priority, in particular by updating Cement Standards recommended by the Brazilian Association of Technical Standards (ABNT), which haven’t been updated for almost 30 years now.

In July 2018, the industry updated the standards to allow for a wider use of additions – in particular limestone filler – in line with the most recent standards in the world. As a result, by adopting these new grades in their entirety, the sector would achieve a potential emission reduction of around 8%.

Alternative fuels were also covered in a priority action. In October 2020, the new Conama Resolution on the Co-processing of Waste in Cement Kilns was approved as an override to the initial resolution – which was more than 20 years old. So emission definitions and parameters were updated based also on contemporary European standards, while also introducing the concept of urban solid waste and methods of thermal treatment of this waste, as well as expired drugs.

The sector has been progressing well in the use of these alternative fuels, i.e., waste tires; industrial waste such as oily sludges, paints, solvents, and plastics; urban waste; biomass and agricultural waste such as rice husks, açaí and babassu seeds, fine charcoal, etc.

Since the 2000s, the share of alternative fuels in the sector’s energy mix jumped from 9% to 31% (2019). In absolute terms, it increased from 300 thousand tons in 2000 to 1.5 million tons of waste currently.

Circular economy – The notion of waste co-processing is fully integrated in the concept of a circular economy since it reuses the calorific value of these wastes while eliminating the resulting environmental liability from their accumulation in landfills or even dumps. Meanwhile, since this waste contains lower levels of carbon than the traditional fossil fuels used in the sector, such as petroleum coke, it also contributes to reducing CO2 emissions.

As per the roadmap, the sector expects to reach a share of 55% of these alternative fuels in its energy mix by 2050. These are extremely ambitious targets ​for Brazilian standards, but fully attainable if the European standards are used as a benchmark: in Europe the replacement rate is now 50% on average; Germany and Austria are examples of levels above 70%.

SNIC – The National Union of the Cement Industry (SNIC) was established in 1953 as the institutional representative of the sector. By developing institutional relations with domestic and foreign public and private organizations, it provides technical and advisory advice on economic, tax, environmental, and mining issues. It conducts studies and develops sector indicators so that the figures ​​generated by the cement industry can be shared with millions of people and support the country’s economic, social and environmental growth.