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Saint-Gobain to develop low carbon cement with Ecocem

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Materials manufacturer Saint-Gobain (XPAR:SGO) has partnered with construction technology firm Ecocem to accelerate the decarbonisation of the cement sector.

  • The partners will develop, demonstrate and commercialise a range of low-carbon cement, concrete and mortar products. 
  • Cement and related products accounted for 2.6 billion metric tonnes of global GHG emissions in 2021, around 7% of the total. 
  • Increasing pressure from regulators, investors and other stakeholders is driving the emergence of industrial collaborations and take-up of disruptive technologies. 

Saint-Gobain and Ecocem will strengthen their existing relationship under a new partnership to accelerate the adoption of low-carbon cement technologies.  

Saint-Gobain is committed to low carbon cement

According to Ecocem founder and CEO, Donal O’Riain, “the potential exists today to reduce cement industry emissions dramatically by 2030 and to align with the targets set by the Paris Accord.” 

O’Riain added, “Ecocem’s new generation of scalable low-carbon cement technologies can deliver on this potential. Our deep partnership with Saint-Gobain will support our efforts to scale these technologies and demonstrate to the world how we can decarbonize the cement, concrete and mortar industries.”   

Saint-Gobain’s interest in the sector is worth noting due to its role in the global building materials industry. Benoit Bazin, chief executive of Saint-Gobain, said that he hopes the partnership with Ecocem will contribute strongly to the group’s overall net zero targets. 

The agreement includes an extensive research and development project between Ecocem and Chryso, a construction chemicals firm acquired by Saint-Gobain in 2021, to develop high-performance admixtures. Ecocem will also work alongside Saint-Gobain’s mortar business, Weber, and the distribution and concrete manufacturing operations of its POINT.P division. 

The agreement builds on previous efforts 

Ecocem, in which Saint-Gobain holds a 25% share, has been making and supplying a range of low-carbon cements for the past 20 years. It has developed a substitute for clinker, the main component of cement, which it claims reduces pollution by around 50%.

The clinker alternative is made using a by-product of the steel industry, and has already been used in several projects across Europe including the HS2 railway line and a public transportation network in Paris. 

Saint-Gobain, meanwhile, has published a Carbon Roadmap outlining its strategy for reaching net zero emissions by 2050. The plan is based on science-based targets, including 2030 goals covering the group’s Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. 

As well as emissions reduction goals, the company has set targets to reduce its resource consumption and waste, while improving energy efficiency and increasing its use of recycled materials. 

Cement accounts for 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions 

Research suggests that the chemical and industrial processes used to manufacture cement and related products accounted for 2.6 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, more than double the 1.2 billion metric tonnes estimate of 2002. 

Cement is one of the most widely used materials around the world, and will continue to be so under projected trends in population growth, economic development and urbanisation.

When mixed with water, cement forms a binding substance that is used in concrete and mortar. Given the role of these materials in constructing the built environment, global cement demand is estimated as being around four gigatonnes per year. 

Although the growth of the sector’s emissions can partially be attributed to its physical and financial growth, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that the average emissions generated per tonne of cement manufactured had also increased by 1.5% between 2015 and 2021. 

The IEA goes on to say that, to get on track with a net zero by 2050 scenario, average emissions (or the carbon intensity) of cement will need to decline by 3% every year to  2030. 

The cement industry is under pressure to decarbonise 

The cement industry is facing increasing pressure to decarbonise, with various jurisdictions including the EU, Canada and Korea having incorporated the sector within their emissions pricing schemes.

China, which currently accounts for more than 50% of global cement production, has announced plans to put a price on the industry’s emissions with potential enforcement from 2023. 

In the EU, where both Saint-Gobain and Ecocem are based, the Commission is currently revising its Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which aims to achieve a low-carbon and energy efficient building stock by 2050. The revisions are expected to reflect higher ambitions, imposing greater responsibilities on the construction sector as a whole. 

This increase in regulatory scrutiny is accompanied by growing pressure from investors, with the EU’s Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulations requiring certain financial institutions such as alternative investment funds and pension managers to disclose the environmental impacts of their investments. 

Investors are increasingly demonstrating a new focus on managing the emissions associated with hard-to-abate sectors. 2022’s Climate Week NYC saw the First Movers Coalition launch its blueprint to mobilise capital towards the decarbonisation of seven emissions-heavy industries, including concrete. 

Industry collaborations and technological innovations are emerging 

The cement industry has demonstrated its willingness to shift in response to these developments, with a range of collaborative projects and technological innovations emerging. 

The ConcreteZero initiative and the Mission Possible Partnership, for example, are two sizeable efforts bringing industry players together with climate action groups and multilateral organisations to accelerate cement decarbonisation.  

The CO2Valorize consortium led by multinational engineering firm FLSmidth (XCSE:FLS), meanwhile, has received €2 million in EU funding to develop advanced carbonisation technologies that sequester the CO2 emitted during the calcination of limestone through a combination of recycling and the storage of carbon within supplementary cementitious materials. 

Other technological developments include TotalEnergies’ (NYSE:TTE) recent partnership with Holcim (SWX:HOLN) to achieve net zero at a cement facility in Belgium through the introduction of carbon capture and green hydrogen. Alongside the collaborative efforts of major players within the industry, start-ups have emerged to disrupt the industry with their own solutions, such as AICrete’s concrete recipe optimisation platform. 

As the pressure to decarbonise the cement industry grows ever stronger, we are likely to see an increasing number of both industrial collaborations and disruptive technological innovations emerging. Each of these may have a key role to play in enabling the sector to continue expanding in response to demand while effectively addressing its hefty carbon footprint. 

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