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ECoClay looks to electrify cement production

Carsten Riisberg Lund

New cement partnership seeks to eliminate fossil fuel use by electrifying clay calcination process

TO further decarbonize the cement industry, FLSmidth and a series of leading industry experts have formed a new partnership called ECoClay. To reduce CO2 emissions from cement production by up to 50%, the ECoClay partners will develop and commercialize the technology needed to replace fossil fuels in the calcination of clay by fully electrifying the process.

The use of calcined clay to replace traditional, limestone-based clinker in final cement products is said to be essential in drastically reducing the environmental footprint from conventional cement production, which today accounts for approximately 7–8% of the world’s CO2 emissions.

Current clay calcination processes have gained momentum in recent years – especially with FLSmidth’s flash calciner system, producing a highly reactive clay, which allows cement producers to replace up to 30% of the limestone-based clinker, resulting in up to 40% lower CO2 emissions per tonne of cement produced.

By electrifying the clay calcination process, preferably from renewable sources and thereby eliminating the use of fossil fuels to drive the activation reaction, the ECoClay partnership expects to further reduce emissions by 10% at more uniform conditions that allow processing of a broader range of raw clays.

Led by FLSmidth, the global ECoClay partners include the Danish Technological Institute, US-based industrial heating expert Rondo Energy, cement producers VICAT from France and Colombian Cementos Argos, and the Technical University of Denmark. The project is partly funded by the Energy Technology Development and Demonstration Program (EUDP) under the Danish Energy Agency.

Based on the shared research and tests on high-temperature electric heat generation, storage solutions, and renewable grid integration, the ECoClay partnership will build a pilot plant at FLSmidth’s R&D Centre in Denmark. The consortium will seek to demonstrate how the ECoClay process is superior to the conventional combustion processes, has a smaller physical footprint on site, and significantly lower emissions of air pollutants.

According to the project plan, the ECoClay partners expect to be able to commence construction of the first full-scale electric clay calcination installation by the end of 2025.

Carsten Riisberg Lund (pictured), cement industry president at FLSmidth, said: ‘The significance of this partnership cannot be overestimated; ECoClay is accelerating the green transition of cement production – aiming to set a new future standard for the industry.

‘We are proud to be in the good company of fellow industry pioneers showing the right determination and ingenuity to make this happen. ECoClay is another essential step towards realizing our MissionZero pledge to enable cement producers to operate plants at zero emissions by 2030.’

John O’Donnell, chief executive officer of Rondo Energy, commented: ‘Rondo’s technology captures intermittent renewable electricity and stores it for delivery as continuous high-temperature industrial-scale heat, unlocking enormous economic, environmental, and societal value by displacing fossil fuels cost-effectively.

‘Calcined clay has no intrinsic (mineral process) emissions; by replacing the fuel combustion powering the calcination process with renewable electricity, the EcoClay partnership will deliver prompt, practical, low-cost emissions reductions at scale – and can build the foundation for true-zero cement.’

Tomás Restrepo, people and transformation vice-president at Cementos Argos, said: ‘Calcined clays production is an excellent call to materialize the opportunities that electrification can bring to our industry. At Argos, we are constantly seeking to improve our portfolio and production processes to respond to the challenges presented by climate change and contribute to building a more sustainable world.’

Peter Arendt Jensen, senior researcher with DTU Chemical Engineering, commented: ‘We are looking forward to this collaboration, which includes several companies and three DTU departments. The partnership will play a significant role in converting the energy-intensive cement industry from fossil fuels to the use of electricity from carbon-neutral technologies.’

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