Vattenfall plans world’s first zero-carbon cement plant

Pilot on a Swedish island could be key step in cutting emissions from industry producing 5% of world’s CO2

Utility Vattenfall and cement-maker Cementa may build a pilot plant in Sweden that for the first time in the world would produce cement from wind power instead of polluting fossil fuels, after positive results from a pilot study into the electrification of cement production.

The cement industry is one of the largest producers of CO2, creating up to 5% of the world’s emissions of the greenhouse gas, of which 50% is from the chemical process, and 40% from burning fuel, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

"It is very positive that we can proceed with the work of electrifying the cement industry, it is one of the most important examples of new collaborations for technology development which can make a substantial contribution to the efforts to create a fossil-free future," said Vattenfall chief executive Magnus Hall.

Aiming for climate-neutral cement production is another part of Sweden’s effort to have no more net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2045. Next to aiming to switch its entire electricity production to renewables, the Nordic country is also starting to electrify its power thirsty steel industry, and plans to ban the sale of fossil-fuel powered cars by 2030.

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Vattenfall and Cementa will be conducting an in-depth study this year into how a pilot plant can be built.

Simulations have indicated that any future electrification of Cementa's factory on Gotland would work well together with planned expansion of wind energy on the island in the Baltic Sea. That would come partly through an improved energy balance, but also through reduction of the maximum surplus capacity to which wind energy would otherwise give rise.

The Cementa plant currently consumes close to half of the power on Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, a company sustainability manager told Recharge, but added that no decision on the location of a pilot plant has been taken yet.

The considerations for a pilot plant come as Vattenfall and Cementa are concluding a first part of the CemZero study and have submitted a final report to the Swedish Energy Agency that has co-financed the study.

Vattenfall's Hall had first explained the plans for fossil-free cement in an interview with Recharge last June. The initial study had examined different technologies for heating in the cement process, with fossil-free electricity used as the energy source instead of conventional fuels.

"Achieving radical emissions reductions requires advances in technology. CemZero opens up an interesting path which we are looking forward to taking further," said Cementa's CEO Magnus Ohlsson.

The study concluded that electrification of the heating in the cement process appears to be technically possible. Among other things it has been shown to produce a certain amount of cement clinker based entirely on plasma technology. This possibility needs to be verified through large scale testing, Vattenfall has said.

An electrified solution for cement is competitive compared with other alternatives in order to achieve radical reductions in emissions, the study also found.

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