Cement, concrete, and carbon conversation turns to intellectual honesty and plausibility

A U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) survey of cement and concrete production builds on U.S. General Services Administration measures, noted here last month, to guide federal construction procurement policy toward lower embodied carbon levels in finished structures. Along with the Departments of Defense and Transportation, General Services stands to favor material or product specifications backed by carbon data presented in a standardized format, chiefly ISO 14025-grade Environmental Product Declarations. 

Productive agency and construction stakeholder exchanges run in tandem with the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) “Request for Information on Industrial Decarbonization Priorities.” The RFI solicits input on carbon management strategies in Cement and Lime, plus four other businesses—Refining, Chemical, Iron and Steel, Food Products—reporting the highest carbon dioxide emissions among the Industrial sector of the economy. Industrial accounts for 30 percent of CO2 emissions, versus 35 percent for Transportation, 19 percent for Residential buildings, and 17 percent for Commercial buildings. 

The document is consistent with the AMO’s mission: “Catalyze research, development and adoption of energy-related advanced manufacturing technologies and practices to drive U.S. economic competitiveness and an equitable transition to a decarbonized energy system by 2050.” The Office seeks to improve U.S. manufacturing productivity and energy efficiency; reduce manufactured goods’ lifecycle and resource impacts; promote diverse domestic energy resources in processing and manufacturing; and, advance DOE-supported technologies or practices into U.S. industrial operations. “Industrial Decarbonization” feedback will assist DOE offices, including the newly formed Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, in implementing Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provisions—among them an Industrial Emissions Demonstration Projects section. 

The U.S. cement industry’s nearly 90 million metric tons of 2020 output saw 22 million metric tons of energy-related and 40 million metric tons of process CO2 emissions. As the table accompanying this month’s report on the Portland Cement Association response to the RFI (page 10) shows, cement production accounts for just over 2 percent of CO2 emissions across the U.S. economy—one-quarter the percentage typically assigned to cement production worldwide. 

With an eye to research & development grants, the AMO seeks input from Cement and Lime stakeholders on opportunities for CO2 reduction on both sides of the gate, hence at the plant and points downstream. It invites comment on the “pillars of decarbonization,” namely electrification; energy efficiency; low carbon fuels, feedstocks, and energy sources; and, carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS). PCA responded to the RFI with candor: CCUS methods appear likely to have a measurable impact on cement CO2 emissions over the next decade, while fuels and heat sources such as hydrogen and electrification are nowhere near ready for prime time when it comes to calcining limestone and converting it, along with other kiln feeds, to cement clinker.

“AMO is interested in research & development needed to accelerate the commercial readiness of emerging, net-zero carbon, process technologies for the cement and concrete industry, as well as related workforce and community needs,” DOE observes. “AMO is soliciting feedback to identify the greatest opportunities to reduce energy consumption and emissions through impactful research & development opportunities and enable an accelerated timeline for achieving greenhouse gas emission reductions.”

The outreach and RFI language signal a federal government willing to back its priorities with financial resources. Perhaps those in Washington, D.C. for whom climate change is top of mind are unwilling to have action in carbon-intensive industries hinge on unfunded mandate compliance.

Don Marsh, editor
[email protected]