A green cement challenge to Australia's cement producers

This week the Hallett Group announced a AUD125m (US$84.3m) project to replace around 6Mta of imported clinker and cement with supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) from a new manufacturing facility based at Port Augusta and a Port Adelaide import and export distribution centre for green cement. The operation is expected to cut CO2 emissions initially by 300,000t from June 2024 and then by 1Mt as it expands the following year. The Port Augusta manufacturing site will receive granulated slag offtake from the Nyrstar Port Pirie metals smelter and the Liberty Whyalla steelworks, subject to a successful evaluation of the materials as well as fly ash from the former Port Augusta power station. The Port Augusta plant is expected to provide 30Mt of SCMs over the next 20 years and beyond. A separate import and export distribution centre will be built at Port Adelaide and completed in May 2023. The overall Green Cement Transformation Project is receiving AUD20m of federal funding and will be powered by solar and wind energy sources.  Australia's green cement shift Hallett's Green Cement Transformation Project is described by the group's CEO, Mark Pickard, as a direct challenge to the long-established cement market structure in Australia. It follows Fortescue Metals Group's entry into Australia's green cement market in 2021 using waste from green iron processes.

Traditional cement suppliers have already looked to exploit the demand for green cement products. Boral  divested its North American fly ash business in 2021, but its Australian lower carbon concrete products use ground granulated blastfurnace slag (GGBS) and fly ash with ENVISA®, its main SCM concrete that replaces 50 per cent of cement. Light Grinding Mill

Boral is investing AUD130m in building a grinding facility at Geelong Port. The 1.3Mta grinding plant is connected to Lascelles Wharf by a conveyor system for the production of cementitious products. Ahrens has constructed the 6000m2 clinker storage building at the new facility. The company's fly ash supply chain avoided approximately 5.2Mt of CO2 emissions in 2018 and it has targeted a further 1.1-1.5Mt of CO2 emissions avoidance by 2022 by increasing fly ash supply by 1.5-2Mt.

Meanwhile, Adbri is Australia's largest importer of cementitious materials. In its 2021 annual report, the company targeted a replacement of 24 per cent SCMs as a proportion of final cementitious product sales. Adbri seeks overall cementitious sales of 36 per cent by 2030 as against a 2020 baseline of 21 per cent. It is also ahead of the competition when it comes to a clinker to cement ratio of 77 per cent compared to an industry average in Australia of 84 per cent in 2020, according to Adbri. Furthermore, Adbri and Cockburn Cement are currently upgrading the Kwinana Bulk Terminal with a slag feed system and modern ball mill circuit with two cement mills for grinding slag and clinker. The AUD199m project is scheduled to be completed in mid-2023. 

Another leading producer, Cement Australia (Holcim and HeidelbergCement group), is reducing its CO2 emissions by creating GreenCem which is a patent pending low embodied carbon concrete powdered admixture which enables up to 80 per cent cement replacement with fly ash and/or slag. 

Wagners have opted for a GBF (FAB) Portland general blended cement with 25 per cent fly ash which is mainly used in road construction projects. Its HSC Portland cement blends incorporate Portland cement with GGBS, made up of 60 per cent granulated blastfurnace slag and 25 per cent slag blend.

Meanwhile, BGC Cement is merging its two manufacturing sites in Canning Vale and Naval Base to create a single production plant at Naval Base. The capacity at the cement plant will be 1.2Mta and will include a new blending plant and bagging plant. The AUD12.19m project will also see the production of Ultra Créme white cement, a distribution centre at Kalgoorlie and a new laboratory at Hazlemere.

Summary Australia has a clinker production capacity of around 5.6Mta (2018-19), but producers are increasingly moving over to 'greener' blended cements produced with SCMs, which accounted for 11.5Mt of cement sales in 2018-19, according to the Cement Industry Federation. Existing manufacturers are evolving their production sites or building new facilities for increased distribution of green cements. With new entrants raising competition in response to demand, this is an area where substantial growth can be expected over the next decade. Customers are demanding low-emission cement and concrete and cement producers seek to lower import costs from using reduced clinker volumes. Producers are also looking to source their raw materials sustainably to supply cement products with a lower embodied carbon value. ICR's June 2022 issue published an article from Adbri on its slag cement production 'Building a better Autralia'.

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