The rise and potential peak of cement are interesting issues to discuss as they are related to many factors of relevance to achieving sustainable socio-economic developments, e.g. increasing population, an accelerating dynamic urbanization, water-energy nexus, renewables, global warming, waste and pollution as well as needs for effective and optimized cement production in terms of energy, waste and labor.
The majority of the 2.5 billion new urban inhabitants projected to be in Africa and Asia in the period to 2050. This will, for many reasons, strongly influence the global future of cement demand and use, efficiency of the production process, types of fuels and materials used as well as access to building materials and related natural resources. With the global cement production to continue rising in coming years, many real questions arise: how fast will the industry develop and how will its appetite for coal and other fuels change; also the response to new technologies. Cement industry, currently, uses around 5% of the coal produced globally every year and coal remains to be the largest single component in the overall fuel mix used by the cement industry. As thermal energy represents 30–40% of overall costs for the cement industry, this has gradually led to a search for lower-cost fuels with the rise of the use of alternative fuels or alternative energy-efficient production processes. The drivers for use of any alternative fuel or process are demands of reduced CO2 emissions, the impact of landfill taxes and bans, and price of alternative fuels relative to conventional fuels, automation for labor-saving and effective production, also the needs to use other raw materials and waste products by cement industries.
Despite the desire of some to move away from coal, cement facilities using alternative fuels/processes, and non-coal fossil fuels remain a minority and in some regions, the trend for fuel choice is currently toward coal. However, the percentage of clinker in the final cement product has been reduced over the past two decades from 83% in 1990 to around 75% in 2012. This means that 25% of the cement is a non-clinker mineral and thus not as energy-intensive. Among the process-based solution for energ-saving is changing thermal by physical activation for cement production.
PEAK CEMENT. Cement demand will only increase for an individual country up to a certain level of urbanization to enter a “repair and maintain” stage. In developed countries this trend is reinforced by low population growth rates. As each economy achieves the “repair and maintain” level of development, demand for cement will be reduced in an increasing number of countries, causing growth in global cement demand to fall. This has already taken place in EU, U.S. and Japan. After this point, it is conceivable that global cement demand, and by extension the amount of coal it requires, will peak. However, whether or not this could occur by 2050 remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that whatever happens to the cement industry over the next 35 years, coal will play a very important role as the primary fuel source that is if, and only if, the market-technology will still depend on traditional processes for production, i.e. “business-as-usual”.