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On the way to climate-neutral cement production: closing carbon cycles

Climate neutrality by 2050 - that is the goal of the European Union. Strategies for CO2 avoidance are one way of achieving this. However, residual emissions are unavoidable. Innovative ideas are needed to deal with them. German industry is focusing on new technologies: Carbon capture, storage and utilization is a promising approach - especially in basic industries.

To achieve the 2050 climate targets, politicians, industry and society must play all cards available. These include measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially CO2, such as the expansion of renewable energies and the production and use of climate-neutral hydrogen.

However, these measures cannot completely zero out CO2 emissions, because some sectors of the economy, such as basic industries, produce emissions that cannot be fully replaced by the technologies available today. A sustainable approach to the unavoidable residual emissions is required. Carbon capture and utilization (CCU) and carbon capture and storage (CCS) offer the basic materials industry important opportunities for climate-friendly transformation. The goal: to establish carbon cycles that are as closed as possible.

Green cement - a utopia?

Concrete is one of the elementary basic materials of the construction industry worldwide. Its most important binder, cement, however, is one of the building materials with the most energy-intensive production - around six to seven percent of global CO2 emissions are generated in this sector. The goal of CO2-neutral cement production therefore sounds utopian. However, that is precisely what the world's second-largest cement manufacturer Heidelberg Materials (formerly HeidelbergCement) has set itself up to. The company wants to achieve climate-neutral production by 2050 at the latest.

Since a large proportion of CO2 emissions in cement production cannot be prevented, the company is relying on CO2 storage. In Brevik, Norway, the Group is building what it claims to be the world's first large-scale CCS facility in a cement plant. "CO2 capture is an important cornerstone for achieving national and international climate targets. Our CCS project in Brevik will pave the way for our industry and other sectors," says Dr. Dominik von Achten, CEO of Heidelberg Materials.

Ahead of its time: pioneering work in Norway

The greenlight for construction of the plant was given in 2020, but preparations go back much further. How can we make cement production sustainable? The pioneers at the Norwegian subsidiary Norcem asked themselves this question back in 2005 and developed the first ideas for CO2 storage. Years of research and development followed, during which the project took on concrete form. Norcem won Aker Carbon Capture and MAN Energy Solutions as technology partners and the Norwegian government as an investor. Since the end of 2020, the Brevik site has been part of the Longship climate investment project, which involves capturing, transporting and storing CO2 on an industrial scale.

The goal: capture 50 percent of CO2 emissions.

2023 will be the decisive year for the construction and integration of the CCS plant into the existing facility. As early as next year, Heidelberg Materials plans to capture 400,000 metric tons of CO2 per year from cement production here - that's 50 percent of the emissions from the entire plant. The technology from Aker Carbon Capture and MAN Energy Solutions compresses and liquefies the CO2, which ships will then transport to an underground storage site. With its direct connection to the water, the plant is ideally located to transport the captured carbon directly onward.