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EU-funded consortium aims to accelerate cement decarbonisation

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A consortium led by multinational engineering firm FLSmidth intends to support the decarbonisation of cement, through the development of carbonation processes that trap CO2 in concrete.

  • The CO2Valorize consortium will receive €2 million in EU funding to develop carbonation technologies for reducing the carbon footprint of the cement industry.
  • Cement is a critical input for the construction industry but is responsible for 7-8% of global CO2 emissions, making it a prime target for decarbonisation initiatives.
  • The funding is indicative of growing public sector and investor interest in technologies that can disrupt existing carbon-intensive industries.

The CO2Valorize consortium is to be backed by  €2 million in funding from the EU Commission’s Horizon Europe. 

The FLSmidth-led group will also involve number of European universities, German industrial conglomerate Siemens (GER:SIE) and Slovakian cement producer Cemmac (CPH:FLS).

Together, the partners will accelerate the deployment of carbonation technologies, which FLSmidth claims will result in what qualifies as ‘green cement’, meaning that it has been generated through a carbon-negative production process.

The firm points to the technology’s inclusion of both concrete recycling and carbon capture when backing its claims. It does, however, acknowledge that there are several external developments needed to advance the technology’s deployment.

Waste streams will need to be made suitable for processing in cement kilns, while substantial investment will be needed to build renewable energy infrastructure that will ensure the process is powered sustainably.

Given the developmental requirements of carbonation technologies, the CO2Valorize project may not be as well-funded as this first announcement makes it appear.

EU support for CO2Valorize underwhelming relative to size of budget

The EU has backed its research and innovation program, Horizon Europe, with a budget of €95 billion, designated for use in tackling climate change, boosting Europe’s economic competitiveness and advancing progress towards the achievement of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs).

More than 35% of this budget is to be spent on climate objectives, with the aim of creating 300,000 jobs by 2040, 40% of which will be are expected to be‘highly skilled’.

Another four funding pillars have been identified for the support of research and innovation. These include:

  1. Excellent science
  2. Global challenges and industrial competitiveness
  3. Innovative Europe
  4. Widening participation and strengthening the European Research area.

The excellent science pillar has a budget of €25 billion, of which €16 billion will be administered by the European Research Council (ERC), €6.6 billion by the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA). A further €2.4 billion of this pillar’s funds have been specifically allocated to infrastructural research.

CO2Valorize’s €2 million grant comes from the MSCA pool, rendering it a relatively minimal share of the overall budget.

Rival green cement claims suggest CO2Valorize has competition

When successfully developed and deployed, carbonation technologies are expected to eliminate up to 30% of CO2 emissions when compared to traditional cement production methods.

Carbonation technologies sequester the CO2 emitted during the calcination of limestone through a combination of recycling and the storage of carbon within supplementary cementitious materials (SCM) such as slag, fly ash, or recycled concrete fines and mine tailings.

Heidelberg Cement (GER:HEI) has similarly used SCM to reduce the CO2 intensity of concrete. It claims its EcoPlus range offers a 60% reduction in CO2, while its Ecocrete product, which uses 100% recycled aggregate, reportedly reduces CO2 by up to 70%.

US-based Green Cement, a subsidiary of Ecomaterial Technologies, has even greater claims, with its cement formulation apparently having up to 99% fewer carbon emissions than traditional cement. 

The announcement by FLS will likely excite carbon capture researchers in Europe, but the scale of the project could be seen as somewhat uninspiring given the size of the problem at hand.

Still, as an exercise of mobilising EU funding for a collaborative project across multiple European stakeholders, it ticks quite a few boxes.

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