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Guest Column

Published on: Nov. 3, 2021, 8:28 p.m.
Ahead of the curve
  • Shree Cement: the company with the lowest specific energy consumption in the world

By H.M. Bangur. The author is Managing Director, Shree Cement Ltd

We are increasingly seeing the effects of climate change in the form of extreme weather events, like more frequent and intense heat waves, hurricanes, erratic monsoons, floods, etc. Global warming is putting cities and communities at risk. Coastal cities such as Mumbai, Chennai are at the risk of ‘going under’ by the end of the century, if climate change is not reversed. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its report released earlier this year paints a grim picture of the situation. There is no doubt, therefore, that bold and decisive action is required collectively to combat the challenge. 

The forthcoming COP26 Conference to be held in Glasgow is aimed at extracting pledges from countries including India to reach a level of zero carbon emission, or “net-zero” by 2050. 

However, to seek an equal target by individual countries by the same target year is unfair because this does not take into account the growth needs of developing countries. India may be the third largest GHG emitter in the world after China and US, but its per capita emissions are less than half the world average. 

The cement industry is a large contributor to India’s development. The amount of housing and infrastructure needed by India would require vast amounts of building and construction materials, resulting in more emissions. 

Indian cement industry is however, ahead of the curve as compared to the world. India’s specific GHG emission is only around 566 kg CO2 per tonne of cement as compared to a global average of around 635 kg CO2 per tonne of cement. 

India has some of the world’s most energy efficient cement plants. Relatively recent vintage, coupled with intense competition has compelled the Indian cement producers to become more energy efficient. This is especially true for Shree Cement which arguably, is today the company with the lowest specific energy consumption in the world. 

India also has one of the highest proportions of blended cements in the world, enabling it to produce more cement from the same quantity of clinker. This has been possible because of access to fairly large quantities of blending materials such as blast furnace slag and fly ash. Low carbon cement accounts for more than 3/4th of Shree Cement’s sales.

Almost all large cement companies in India (including Shree Cement), representing more than 50 per cent of the Indian industry have committed to emission targets by 2030 under the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi). Further, under the aegis of the Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA), many Indian cement companies have committed to be ‘net zero’ by the year 2050.

Indian cement production is estimated at around 350 MT in the current year. This is expected to grow to 550 MT by 2030, in order to meet the country’s development needs. Reducing specific GHG emission in the face of such growth is likely to meet several challenges. 

Firstly, further reduction in energy consumption per tonne of cement on a massive scale may not be feasible, since major energy conservation measures have already been implemented. 

Secondly, increasing the proportion of blended cement from here onwards would be challenging. The supply of the most common blending material used by cement industry viz. fly ash, is dwindling mainly due to the decreasing share of thermal power in the Indian energy mix. Finding alternate blending material is likely to be more difficult; for instance, Limestone Calcined Clay Cement (LC3 cement) requires sufficient deposits of the right quality of clay.

In any case, all these measures can only reduce the carbon footprint of cement, not eliminate it altogether.

Eliminating GHG emissions would require next generation technologies such as kiln hydrogenation, kiln electrification or Carbon Capture and Usage (CCU). These technologies are still at a nascent stage and are not commercially viable. Even if they become affordable, installation of these technologies would need highly subsidized ‘green finance’, as retrofitting existing capacities would require massive investments.

New technologies will also add to operating costs, which would make ‘green cement’ much more expensive as compared to ordinary cement. Hence, policy support from the government would be required in the form of tax subsidies (e.g. lower GST rate) or some other, in order to negate higher operating costs.

Achieving ‘net zero’ targets is thus contingent not only on technological advancements to make new technologies affordable but also availability of subsidised capital to implement these technologies. Equally important is policy support from the government to support these technologies and enable them to become financially viable. 

Despite challenges, almost all major Indian cement companies have realised the urgency and importance of reducing their carbon footprint and are striving really hard to reduce their carbon footprint.

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