On the popular BossCast series, Gonzalo Galindo, Head of the Corporate Venture Capital arm of CEMEX, argued that investing in green technology is key to reducing the environmental impact of one of the world’s most polluting industries: cement manufacturing.
Cement has formed the bedrock of the built environment for millenia. Many of the structures the Romans built with primitive cement - including the Pantheon and the Colosseum - still stand tall. Yet its remarkable success as a building material and ubiquity in the modern world are proving increasingly problematic for the environment.
Cement now produces 8 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. But one of the world’s biggest producers of concrete, CEMEX, has committed to a 60 percent reduction of emissions by 2030, and to full carbon neutrality by 2050.
Speaking to Blackstock Consulting’s Andrew Teacher, Gonzalo Galindo outlined exactly how cement production emits carbon, and how CEMEX Ventures’ investments “will help us to reach the targets that COP26 set.”
The problem begins with the production of concrete itself. Concrete is largely made up of cement, and producing cement requires heat: production typically involves heating kilns to a ferocious 1700 degrees Celsius. By the time concrete leaves the factory, 88 percent of the emissions it will produce over its lifetime have already been created. A key part of becoming carbon neutral, therefore, is finding greener ways to fuel the thousand-degree kilns needed to make cement.
“We’ve been experimenting with our fuel mix for the last thirty years,” says Galindo. Improved fuel efficiency means the kilns burn less fuel, and this reduces emissions. But CEMEX plans to move away from fossil fuels entirely. “We are aiming to use 100 percent renewable electricity within ten years – today we are at around 50 percent”, Galindo explains.
The target is ambitious, but Galindo thinks it will be made possible by investment in companies like Synhelion, who are developing solar power technology capable of generating enough heat for industrial chemical reactions. CEMEX hopes to pilot a solar-powered kiln in 2022, and that this could be rolled out on an industrial scale by 2023.
Another problem is that the chemical reaction required to produce cement necessarily produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct, which Galindo says “creates around 60% of the CO2” released in production. “And that chemical reaction won’t change,” he notes. CEMEX Ventures’ response is to invest in carbon recapture through companies like Carbon Clean. Carbon recapture refers to technology which removes carbon from the atmosphere and stores it.
The company is also investing in companies which tackle the emissions created after the concrete has been produced. AI and data science firms in particular are able to reduce waste in construction. Studies suggest as much as 30 percent of building materials delivered to a site can end up as waste.
Saalg Geomechanics, for instance, is using AI to predict the behaviour of different soil types during construction. This means safe foundations can be built using less concrete.
Galindo also thinks that making supply chains more efficient is key: “the supply chain is one of the major factors of waste in construction, and it is probably one of the areas that has been least invested in.”
Accordingly, CEMEX Ventures have invested in Voyage Control, a company which uses software to coordinate supply chains with the progress of on-site construction. This prevents failed deliveries, which are a serious waste of fuel, space, and time.
Looking to the future, Galindo is optimistic about the potential of data science to modernise the cement industry and bring it in line with emissions reduction targets. “If you have the right data,” he says, “you can predict and pre-empt a lot of problems.”
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