Understanding the Impacts of Alternative Fuels in Energy-Intensive Cement Manufacturing

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The environmental, social, health, and economic impacts of cement plants are a major concern for Canadian stakeholders. A switch to alternative fuels could reduce the impact of plants on the environment, communities, and human health as well as bring about economic benefits.

The contents of this report can help professionals working in or with cement manufacturing understand the benefits and harms of this trend and ultimately make better assessments in their industry.

Start with the right questions.

Cement is quite literally the foundation of the building boom. It is an important driver of economic progress in most countries. The amount and type of fuel consumed in producing cement impacts costs and has social and environmental consequences.

This report address two questions:

  • What are the environmental, social and economic impacts of using alternative fuels compared with conventional fuels in cement manufacturing?
  • How does the use of alternatives in cement manufacturing compare with other possible end-of-life options like recycling or disposal in landfills?

To answer these questions, NBS commissioned this systematic review for the Cement Association of Canada. NBS selected researchers Vito Albino, Rosa Maria Dangelico, Angelo Natalicchio, and Devrim Murat Yazan of the Politecnico di Bari, Italy. The researchers systematically reviewed more than 110 applied and academic studies.

This summary and the full 139-page Systematic Review describe what is known about cement manufacturing with respect to emissions control and the use of alternative fuels. These findings can advance business practice and public policy.

Apply relevant insights to your specific role.

This report is relevant to anyone interested in waste-to-energy projects and waste diversion. It is particularly important to:

  • Cement industry employees
  • Policy makers and practitioners working with the cement industry
  • Other stakeholders, including academic and research institutions, and community and environmental organizations.

Proceed by considering the 3 Ps.

Cement manufacturing is an energy-intensive process, with energy typically accounting for 40% of operational costs. Cement production accounts for 5% of global man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Traditionally, cement manufacturing has used fossil fuels, such as coal and petroleum coke. However, in recent decades, the industry is increasingly substituting alternative sources, such as municipal solid waste, tires, and waste wood. Yet, Canadian regulators and stakeholders still have concerns about these substitutions.

Any assessment of the sustainability of cement manufacturing, should consider triple-bottom-line thinking: the “three Ps” of profit, people, and the planet.

Understand the benefits, harms, and knowledge gaps.

This review produced clear conclusions in some areas and identified some remaining gaps.

  • We do not know enough about the social and health impact of alternative fuels on local communities. Researchers have not studied these issues widely.
  • Overall, using alternative fuels in cement manufacturing generally reduces greenhouse gasses and criteria air contaminants compared to the use of fossil fuels. However, results vary by type of alternative fuel for hazardous air pollutants and heavy metal emissions.
  • Most alternative, waste-derived fuels have other environmental benefits: they are more resource-efficient, reduce demand on landfills, and avoid potentially more hazardous and polluting disposal options.
  • Alternative fuels differ in their environmental benefits and harms, as detailed in the report.

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