Editorial Feature

The Future Sustainability of Cement

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The earliest recorded production of cement dates hundreds of years ago; however, the first industrial production of this widely used construction product began in the middle of the 19th century. Since this point, global production of cement reaches 2.8 billion tons each year; a number that is expected to continue to rise to up to 4 billion tons more each year1. As a result of this massive production rate, the cement industry faces challenges in remaining sustainable and environmentally friendly throughout all manufacturing procedures, such as by limiting their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.  

History of Sustainable Cement

To address the environmental concerns that surround the cement production industry, a number of enhancements in the energy efficiency, fuel consumption and use of alternative raw materials, to name a few, have been successful over the past few years. For example, since the mid 1980s, the cement production industry has transitioned to utilizing almost 100% alternative fuels composed of used tires, animal residues, sewage sludges, waste oil and waste-derived materials like shredded paper, plastics, foils, textiles and rubber, in precalciner lines1. Similarly, this industry has also found that raw materials that are primarily based on limestone, sand, clay, iron ore and other natural mixtures contain a plethora of useful minerals including calcium (Ca), silicon (Si), iron (Fe), aluminum (Al) and sulfur (S) that can be applied for the production of corrective materials.  

The Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI)  

Under the auspices of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), 24 major cement producers that provide cement approximately 30% of the world’s cement needs in over 100 countries came together over 15 years ago to form the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI) with one mission: improve the overall sustainability of cement. Throughout the history of CSI, these cement manufacturers have focused their endeavors on improving the understanding and management of cement production in an effort to minimize the potential impacts this industry may pose to the environment. Some of these concerns include:

  • Climate change
  • Fuel use
  • Employee health and safety
  • Airborne emissions
  • Concrete recycling
  • Quarry management2

Each of the primary focuses of CSI is addressed in a unique and carefully planned manner. For example, CSI has incorporated the following tactics to improve the safety of workers in the cement production industry:

  • Track and report common metrics on employee safety
  • Collect and share information on incidents and accidents in the work place
  • Share and discuss good safety practices and critical activities
  • Address the root causes of fatal accidents
  • Partnering with Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP) to integrate governments, business and civil society organizations together to help reduce the number of fatalities of cement production workers, particularly those that occur during road work3.

Future Directions

Almost every structure one can imagine that exists in a common metropolitan area – buildings, roads, ports, bridges, dams, levees, sewers, etc., incorporate cement and concrete into their design in some way. Unfortunately, the stability of concrete in these applications have continued to decline, as cracks and crumbling portions of these structures are all too common incidents. Some of the contributing effects to these decline in infrastructure stability includes global climate change, such as an increased amount of storms and floods, that allow for an higher concentration of water vapor to cause wear to concrete materials.  

To address this growing concern, as well as incorporate the development of both recyclable and sustainable concrete production, a number of building corporations are looking to incorporate rooftop plants to help mitigate these climate effects4. In addition to transferring the absorption of extreme heat conditions to the addition of these plants, researchers believe that applying a reflective coating and solar panels to the surface of these structures will further mitigate this issue, otherwise referred to as the ‘heat island effect.’    

Sources

  1. Schneider, M., Romer, M., Tschudin, M., & Bolio, H. (2011). Sustainable cement production – present and future. Cement and Concrete Research 41, 642-650. DOI: 10.1016/j.cemconres.2011.03.019.  
  2. “Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI)” – WBCSD  
  3. “CSI Progress Report 2012” – WBCSD  
  4. “Why sustainable concrete will be the bedrock for future megacities” – Sustainable Brands  

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