• The mining and cement industries contribute over 10% of the world’s CO₂ emissions, but demand in both industries remains high.
  • It is, therefore, imperative that decarbonisation efforts should be accelerated.
  • A World Bank report in 2020 emphasised how all stakeholders along the mineral and renewable energy supply chains have a vital role to play in the transition to a cleaner energy system.

The green transition is increasing the demand for metals and minerals that are needed to produce wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles, battery storage, and other electronic equipment. Metals such as copper, lithium and vanadium, are central to green technologies and energy generation and storage.

In a 2020 report, the International Energy Agency states how clean energy technologies generally require more minerals than fossil fuel-based counterparts, with an electric car using five times as much minerals as a conventional car.

Meanwhile, global economic growth and urbanisation continue to increase the demand for cement. Investments in infrastructure provide people with increased mobility, better economic access, an improved quality of life and can lower inequality. However, with cement production contributing approximately 7-8% of CO₂ emissions and the mining industry between 4-7%, the path to a low-carbon, sustainable future and higher living standards does not look very green.

Mining and cement are at the heart of a green future

Mining and cement have traditionally been seen by the media and public as carbon intensive industries. But the truth is both play a key role for a green, low-carbon future, as well as being central to the realisation of the Paris Agreement and vital to the effective implementation of green recovery packages post-Covid-19.

A World Bank report in 2020 emphasised how “all stakeholders along the mineral and renewable energy supply chains have a vital role to play in the transition to a cleaner energy system to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy for All), while ensuring that it does not come at the cost of the climate, the environment, and people” and “the deployment of renewable energy is essential in helping us meet the Paris Agreement, even if it means that more minerals will be needed to get there”.

So, the green transition needs minerals and cement, there are no two ways about that.

—Thomas Schulz, CEO at FLSmidth

Mining and cement have traditionally been seen by the media and public as carbon intensive industries. But the truth is both play a key role for a green, low-carbon future, as well as being central to the realisation of the Paris Agreement and vital to the effective implementation of green recovery packages post-Covid-19.

A World Bank report in 2020 emphasised how “all stakeholders along the mineral and renewable energy supply chains have a vital role to play in the transition to a cleaner energy system to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy for All), while ensuring that it does not come at the cost of the climate, the environment, and people” and “the deployment of renewable energy is essential in helping us meet the Paris Agreement, even if it means that more minerals will be needed to get there”.

So, the green transition needs minerals and cement, there are no two ways about that.

—Thomas Schulz, CEO at FLSmidth

The question is what actions need to be taken to transition these industries and accelerate solutions towards decarbonisation. At FLSmidth, we have dedicated the overall business and sustainability strategy, to addressing this question. We call it MissionZero. We need to move both the cement and mining industries towards zero emissions by 2030, which requires some drastic engineering decisions.

Solutions for the cement industry

Let us take the cement industry first. One of the key solutions here is finding alternative fuels. Producing cement is a very energy intensive process, demanding substantial energy to reach the heat needed for the processes involved. The combustion of fuels counts for 32% of the CO₂ emissions coming from the process. Traditionally fossil energy sources have been preferred for this process, as these provide a stable clean source of energy. But to reduce CO₂ emissions, energy substitution is required.

One energy source is the so-called Refuse Derived Fuels (RDF), where fossil fuel is substituted with the burning of garbage and used in the calcination process. We are seeing the positive effects from projects around the world; with the Vietnamese Cement company VICEM and Golden Bay Cement in New Zealand. In both cases solving two problems at the same time; you remove coal as the source of energy and you combat the waste issue at the same time.

Another CO₂ emission challenge for the cement industry is the use of clinker as the main ingredient. The calcination of the limestone clinker is actually the main source of CO₂ emission from the industry, representing as much of 57% of the total emission from the process. We want to lower the volume of clinker by accelerating deployment of clay calcination and promoting the use of clinker/clay/limestone blends to reduce emissions. The first step will be to demonstrate industrial-scale clay calcination for use as a binder, a second step is to decarbonise this process using electrification and renewable energy. Clay is particularly interesting as it is abundant in growth regions, which also face a lack of good quality limestone.