Appendix 3: Key Companies and Innovations
Box 5: Novacem
In 2005, Novacem, a company spun out of Imperial College London, announced the development of a ‘carbon-negative cement’. The magnesium-based cement, produced without limestone, absorbed CO2 during the concrete-curing stage, creating an overall carbon advantage over regular OPC. Novacem received investments from the innovation arm of Imperial College London, the Royal Society Enterprise Fund, the London Technology Fund and several cement, construction and engineering companies, such as Lafarge, Laing O’Rourke, Rio Tinto and WSP.
In 2012, Novacem sold its intellectual property to Calix, an Australian technology company, and dissolved shortly thereafter. Despite the early promise and the financial support it was able to attract, the company failed to raise sufficient funds to continue research and production. Nikolaos Vlasopoulos, the former head scientist at Novacem, has speculated that the financial crisis of 2008 created a difficult climate in which to attract investors. Information and news about Calix’s acquisition of Novacem’s technology have been sparse since the sale, although Calix has continued working on its own contributions in low-carbon cement processes, taking part in Project Leilac, an EU Horizon 2020 project focused on CCS. As of 2014, Calix was ‘still working on Magnesia-based niche applications’. Research into patent families once held by Novacem indicates that many have now lapsed, due to lack of continuation of fees, or have been withdrawn.
Box 6: LafargeHolcim
Among major cement producers, LafargeHolcim (formed from the 2015 merger of France’s Lafarge and Switzerland’s Holcim) is generally considered to be one of the more innovative players. Its investment in Novacem, its partnership with Solidia Technologies and its work on improving building energy efficiency are seen as indicative of the company’s commitment to low-carbon innovation in the sector.
Beyond partnerships with and investment in other firms, LafargeHolcim has looked to develop its own low-carbon cement products. In 2003, what was then Lafarge started researching belite-rich clinker. This ultimately culminated in Project Aether, a public–private project aimed at the industrial deployment of lower-carbon Aether cements. Aether, a new form of BYF (beliteye’elimite-ferrite) clinker, has a lower limestone content than conventional OPC and requires a lower production temperature. In 2010, Lafarge, along with the consortium behind Project Aether, received €2.3 million from the EU’s LIFE environmental programme to fund industrial trials. These indicated that Aether emits between 20 per cent and 30 per cent less CO2 in production than OPC cement while maintaining a high compressive strength.
Despite renewed funding from the EU, continued rounds of testing and the fact that Lafarge announced it would start marketing the product in 2014, Aether cement has not progressed past the R&D stage. The main reason is that it is still too expensive, due to the cost of raw materials, to compete with OPC. A European standard for the use of BYF clinkers is currently being drafted.
Box 7: Solidia Technologies
Based in the US, Solidia Technologies has received a lot of attention within the industry. It has attracted investments from companies such as French multinationals Total and Air Liquide; several venture capitalist firms, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers; and LafargeHolcim, which has partnered with Solidia in an attempt to scale up the commercialization of Solidia’s technology. The company also recently received investment from the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a CEO-led group of 10 oil and gas companies. Compared to other SMEs in the sector, Solidia has also received a remarkable amount of public-sector support: the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Transport and the EU’s LIFE Programme have all supported the company.
Solidia’s cement uses the same raw materials as OPC, but its binder is produced at lower temperatures and contains lower levels of lime-containing calcium silicate, reducing CO2 emissions from cement production by 30 per cent. Additionally, it cures its cement with CO2 rather than water, sequestering around 240 kg of CO2 for every tonne of cement that goes into its concrete. Solidia cement has been tested in pilot and industrial-scale projects.
Despite its partnerships and support, and low-scale deployment in Japan, Canada and the US, Solidia’s innovations still have a long way to go before they are likely to see widespread market deployment. The company has started to partner with regulatory agencies in the US to come up with updated validation and testing methodologies. One of the key challenges is the fact that the CO2-curing process currently still relies on a more controlled setting than can often be provided in a ready-mixed-concrete plant, limiting application and use of Solidia’s product to precast concrete.
Box 8: Taiheiyo Cement Corporation
Taiheiyo Cement Corporation has been developing ‘eco-cements’ in which large amounts of limestone are replaced with ash or other waste materials, ultimately reducing the amount of CO2 released from the limestone during processing. The Japanese company has included ash treatment in its operations since the mid-1990s and has established at least five fly-ash-washing plants in coordination with local-government disposal facilities. This contrasts with its overall high emissions intensity relative to other cement companies, and the fact that it has one of the lowest emissions reduction targets in the sector.
The company’s push towards a lower-carbon cement system can be seen in the context of a broader national push towards sustainability. The Japanese Cement Association highlights the ‘Fourth Basic Environment Plan’, adopted by the government, which defined a sustainable society as a ‘low-carbon society’ and a ‘sound material-cycle society’ as a framework for developing more alternative and eco-friendly ways to produce cement. In response to a call to action by the Keidanren (the Japanese Business Federation, consisting of more than 1,000 companies), the Japanese Cement Association mandated a voluntary action plan to ‘redu[ce] the average energy consumption for cement production over the period FY 2008–2012’. Eco-cement was standardized in 2002 as a ‘constituent material’ by the Japanese Society of Civil Engineers. The usage of fly ash in cements also reflects a broader emphasis on recycling. High-density living and low land space have made several recycling activities (from those involving household waste to industrial waste processing) more attractive for businesses and individuals.