By Gary Thomas
Issues With Traditional
How to Make Green Cement
Companies Involved in
Green Cement Production
Cement is something that the majority of people do not spend a large
proportion of their day thinking about, but it does, rather literally,
hold our society together.
Cement has been used in the construction of buildings since Roman
times, but modern cement as we know it today was first utilised on a
large scale during the Industrial Revolution. Cement is a mixture of
minerals, predominantly calcium carbonate from limestone, which can
bind together other materials, such as sand, once hardened. The main
type of cement used in modern construction is Portland cement, which is
a mixture of 90% fine limestone and clay (known as ‘clinker’), and a
small amount of calcium sulphate and other minor ingredients such as
World production of cement is currently around 3.6 billion tons per
year and this is set to rise to around a billion tons by 2050 as the
standard of living in developing countries continues to accelerate. In
fact, in terms of volume used, it is the most important substance on
Earth bar water.
The benefits of cement are simple, yet effective. Cement is cheap,
easily pourable and becomes extremely rigid. Therefore it is used
extensively in producing concrete, and hence many of the world’s
building and roads, as it is added together with water and sand as a
binding agent. It is also used in other common construction materials
such as mortar, stucco and grout.
A familiar concrete barrier, by the side of the
road, made with cement. Image Credit: www.fhwa.dot.gov
Though cement is extremely useful and an integral part of modern
society, it is not environmentally friendly.
To create cement, the constituent limestone must first be heated,
and this is undertaken on an industrial scale using fossil fuels, which
inevitably leads to CO2 being poured into the atmosphere.
Cement production is one of the worst polluting industries in USA, and
accounts for 5% of all carbon dioxide emissions globally. In general,
every ton of cement produced leads to a ton of carbon dioxide gas being
released into the atmosphere. Other harmful emissions from the Portland
cement manufacturing process include nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides
and carbon monoxide.
There is also the inherent environmental impact of quarrying the
limestone for production and transportation of the finished product.
The mining of the constituent minerals needed for cement can cause
large amounts of subsidence and various types of pollution.
Traditional cement production.
How to Make Green Cement
Large cement producers have realised the environmental impact of
cement for quite some time and have trialled eco-friendly alternatives
since the early 00’s.
Early attempts to produce ‘green’ cement included adding by-products
to reduce the amount of limestone needed: steel by-products (slag), ash
and more magnesium oxide have all been trialled with varying levels of
Furthermore, by adding more magnesium oxide to Portland cement it
was hoped that the temperature of production could be lowered to a
temperature that was achievable by heat produced using biofuels.
Unfortunately, as the heating of magnesium oxide produces substantial CO2
the use of MgO did nothing to reduce emissions of the overall process,
sometimes doubling emissions relative to traditional production.
Other temperature reducing minerals were also tried, but the exact
chemistry of Portland cement is not well known and it is hard to
predict how the chemical reaction which hardens the cement would be
affected by the addition of extra minerals.
However, there are many companies that are still working with
different blends of Portland cement to try and create a sustainable
in Green Cement Production
Since the realisation that it is difficult to modify traditional
Portland cement to be eco-friendly, many new companies have sprung up,
trying to rewrite the rule book on cement production.
Nikolaos Vlasopoulos, an environmental engineer at Imperial College,
London, decided to move away from Portland cement altogether and base a
new cement around magnesium silicates. The benefits of this are that
magnesium silicates are in plentiful supply, and most importantly the
chemical process used to produce the cement is actually carbon
negative-it takes in more CO2 than it emits. His company,
Novacem, strives to offer cost and performance parity with traditional
cement and is on the Global Cleantech 100 list for the second year
running (20011, 2012).
An Australian company, Calix, uses superheated steam to produce
cement, and carbon dioxide emissions from the process can be captured
using their ‘Endex Reactor’. Their ‘Catalytic Flash Calcination
Reactor’ can also be used in other industries besides cement.
Engineers at Drexel University are working on cement that is based
on ancient ideas from Roman and Egyptian times. The mixture, which does
not require heating, mixes limestone along with slag and reduces CO2
emissions by around 97% relative to Portland cement.
Meanwhile, Celera in California is using the carbon dioxide
emissions of power plants to make cement, via chemical reactions with
Given the modernity of the green cement sector, it is difficult to
judge which, if indeed any, of these new methods of cement production
will be successful. All have benefits to the environment relative to
Portland cement, but all equally have other issues, such as production
costs or material integrity. On top of this, not enough research has
yet been undertaken to understand what the potential environmental
issues with these new production methods could be. The green cement
industry is certainly one to watch in the coming years.