Cement production a blip on EPA greenhouse gas emissions radar

U.S. portland cement production accounts for just under 2.3 percent of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) emissions in the Environmental Protection Agency Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program 2015 data, which was released last month. Modern kilns increasingly running on natural gas and other coal alternatives, coupled with limited offsetting import factors, appear to position the domestic cement industry favorably in a business often tagged as the source of about 5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

The 95 U.S. cement plants in the 2015 EPA program reported 68.8 million metric tons (mt) of CO2e emissions, against a total of 8,003 emitting sites logging 3.05 billion mt. Portland cement, plus lime and glass production, represent more than 90 percent of CO2e emissions in Minerals (115.5 mt, 2015 emissions), one of nine program sectors. By contrast, last year’s largest CO2e emitting sectors were Power Plants, with 2.0 billion mt; Petroleum and Natural Gas Systems, 231 million mt; and, Refineries, 176 mt.

In 2015, Large Industrial Facilities-reported emissions—approximately 50 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas load—were 4.9 percent lower than 2014, and 8.2 percent lower than 2011. Looking beyond Power Plants, Petroleum and Natural Gas Systems, and Refineries, the other Large Facilities sectors reported a combined 852 million mt of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015, down 1.6 percent from the prior year. Most sectors reported emissions reductions, with large declines in Iron & Steel (Metals) and Fluorinated Chemicals (Chemicals) production.

“The Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program [provides] high-quality, long-term data for the largest emitters, and important details on greenhouse gas emissions trends,” says EPA Office of Air and Radiation’s Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator. “The program is showing us that the trend is moving in the right direction.”

Businesses can use agency data to track and compare facilities’ greenhouse gas emissions, identify opportunities to cut pollution, minimize wasted energy, and save money. States, cities, and other communities can use it to find high-emitting facilities in their area, compare emissions between similar operations, and develop common-sense policies. Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program data are also used to inform the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, which estimates total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from across all sectors of the economy. EPA will publish the 1990-2015 Inventory in April 2017.

Under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, EPA cites significant steps to address carbon pollution from the power, transportation, and industrial sectors, while improving energy efficiency in homes, businesses and factories. The Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program collects facility-level greenhouse gas data from major industrial sources across the country, plus data on the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons primarily used in refrigeration and air conditioning. The EPA greenhouse gas data “FLIGHT” tool allows users to view top emitters in a state or region; see emissions data from a specific industry; track emissions trends by facility or region; and, download maps, list and charts.

Within the nine Large Industrial Facilities survey are Cement Production and four other sub-sectors emitting 50 million metric tons or more of carbon dioxide-equivalent gases during 2015: On-shore Petroleum & Natural Gas Production; Natural Gas Processing; Petrochemical Production; and, Municipal Solid Waste Landfills. Leading the Other sub-sectors in CO2e emissions are Underground Coal Mines and Food Processing (< 50 million mt CO2e).

SOURCE: Environmental Protection Agency Cement, Lime, Soda Ash and Glass facilities report process emissions from the calcination of carbonate-based raw minerals plus greenhouse gas emissions from stationary fuel combustion sources. As shown on the companion chart, the Minerals Sector represents a small fraction (4 percent) of the carbon dioxide-equivalent load from 8,000-plus operations in the EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting/Large Industrial Facilities program.