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Cement and Coal. What Does the Future Hold?

With over 90% of cement production facility being fueled by coal, it is safe to say that the industry as a whole is highly dependent on the availability of this resource. The practice shows that manufacturing about 1t of cement requires 300 kilos of coal on average. The fuel efficiency is obviously highly dependent on how well a facility is managed.
The cement manufacturing industry is one of the most important consumers of coal accounted for over 4% of global coal consumption. This is due to the fact that many manufacturers in Asia, Africa, and South America are still using primarily coal as the main fuel.

We still depend on coal. Is There Enough of it?

An open research conducted by the World Coal Association states that there are about 892 billion tons available for mining which is more than enough to keep furnaces burning for at least another century. This is assuming we do not increase the consumption drastically within the next couple of decades. Countries with the largest reserves of coal are Russia, USA, China, and India.

The coal is formed naturally under specific condition including extremely high pressure. This means that the depth and temperature are the most important factors determining the quality of the coal. The conditions often determine how much moisture and energy the coal contains. A good sample of coal can store up to 27 thousand calories per 1 kilogram of the product. Refer to figure 1 to learn more about coal and its categories.
When it comes to energy efficiency, Cement manufacturing is far from being ideal. Coal is the best choice for a variety of reasons. It provides a reasonably controllable energy values with a consistency that is hard to find in other fossil fuels. At the same time, coal is relatively abundant and cheap which is also beneficial for the energy-hungry cement industry.

The Global Coal Market

Various researches show that the global production of coal is decreasing. For example, The International Energy Agency recently published a report that indicates that the production of coal started decreasing in 2014 for the first time since the beginning of the century. At the same time, the 2015 data showed that the whole industry has slowed down demonstrating significant drops in the amount of coal produced. For example, the overall production decreased by 0.65% in 2014 (7929Bnt). A year later, this number lost 2.8%. 
Amongst the most important coal miners in the world are China, USA, and India (as shown in the table). Together with Australia and Indonesia, these countries produce over 78% of globally mined coal. At the same time, India, China, and the US are the most notable cement manufacturers as well. China is one of the most important countries here. This country nearly doubled the demand in the market during the last 15 years. The biggest producers of both cement and coal are essentially the same countries which is completely normal.

Note that it is not only about production. The consumption has dropped significantly as well. In 2014, the consumption decreased by 0.88% and floated around the 5.54Bnt mark. The biggest consumers are China, India, and the US. Note that TOP10 consumers use over 86% of the overall coal consumption. While in both USA and China the growth of consumption either stopped or reverted, India and South Korea showed a respectable increase of consumption (12.1% and 4.1% respectively).
The distribution of consumption is uneven with over 68% of consumed coal being used to warm commercial buildings and generate electricity. Note that such application can and should use other fossil fuels.

Coal Trends

The global cement industry uses coal much more often than many other industries. Coal accounts for 90% of overall fuel consumption in the industry. While European countries are heavily concerned with the emission of CO2, Asia is less interested in environmental politics and unlike Europeans increased the amount of fossil fuels used significantly. Other fossil fuels are less controllable and less available to them.

The Paris Agreement

Over 200 countries decided that CO2 emission should be taken seriously and agreed to sign the Paris Agreement that focuses on reducing the amount of CO2 released in the atmosphere. The reduction will be achieved via various obligatory statements and voluntary initiatives from countries partaking in the agreement:

  • Reaching the optimal peak in CO2 emission and balance out greenhouse gases sources and countermeasures to them by the end of the first half of the century;
  • Not allowing the growth of temperature exceed 2°C and limiting the overall growth to 1.5°C;
  • Reviewing and readjusting the situation with the CO2 emission on a regular basis (once in 5 years);
  • Collectively funding various climate initiatives in developing countries and providing $100 billion per year.

As one of the most influential fossil fuels users, the global cement industry has been under the radar during the discussion around the Paris Agreement. The industry is committed to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by at least 1Bnt by 2030. This effort is a collective push towards a cleaner world since the cement industry generates about 5% of CO2 produced by humanity. The main goal of the industry is to shift towards a low-carbon energy sources at least partially by the end of the first half of the century.

What Does the Future Hold?

The International Energy Agency forecasts the growth of the demand for coal to be around 0.4% per year. The coal will be the main fuel for electricity generation (over 30% share) by 2040. This fossil fuel will be intensely used by developing countries and economies with a strong industrial potential such as India and China. However, the overall coal consumption will not grow as quickly as one could imagine due to the fact that many developed countries are trying to limit the usage of coal.

The vast majority of well-developed countries try to regulate their fuel consumption according to the modern environmental philosophy. We do want to live in a cleaner world and one of the best ways to ensure that we will breath freely is to decrease the amount of dirty fuel used.

The cement industry is expected to grow spectacularly in developing countries together with the demand for advanced industrial facilities and better housing. This means that growing economies will need more cement and the market will have to answer to the demand by boosting the production. Countries in Asia and Middle-East will definitely continue to rely mostly on coal and use a lot of it to sustain their cement manufacturers. Note that another visible trend is happening in the US where the cement industry is on the rise as well.

The Long Perspective of Coal Usage in the Cement Industry

One of the most important factors in estimating the demand for coal from the cement industry is the demand for cement itself. While many countries are continuing to build both real estate property and vast industrial facilities, developed countries are less interested in constructing new objects. This is the reason why one of the biggest cement manufacturers and consumers is China.
As developing countries will slowly decrease the rate and volume of construction, the demand for cement will also decrease significantly. China will continue to expand its mining operations. It is estimated that the country will reach the 5.75Bnt per year mark by 2050. At that time, the Paris Agreement is expected to reach the global goals for the half-century milestone. China will have to limit its mining operations or significantly reduce the rate of coal usage in the country. However, by that time the demand for cement and cheap fossil fuel may shrink as well.
It is expected that the global cement industry will be using about 500Mt of coal annually by 2050. In case no other fuel sources are implemented in the industry widely, the growth may be even more significant. Some experts expect the industry to consume around 550Mt per year by 2050.
This number can be reduced by introducing other fuel types to the industry. If there will be technological advancements and new methods of cement manufacturing, it is possible to reduce the share of coal in the production of cement.

There are various alternative fuels.

The European Union is the region where the cement industry is trying to use alternative fuels in order to follow the new environment-friendly policies. This makes coal less attractive for the region in general and significantly reduces the demand for coal.
Various studies claim that Europe is heavily invested in alternative fuels. It is estimated that the share of alternative fuels in the cement industry there is roughly 35%. This is a very healthy combination of coal and alternative fuel sources that should be adopted globally in the industry. Due to various facts including the Paris Agreement, the industry will have to follow the guidelines of a more environment-friendly fuel usage. There are certain estimations that predict that over 13% share of the overall fuel consumption in the global cement industry will be formed by alternative fuels by 2050.
The rate at which alternative fuel sources will be implemented by the industry should not be overly influential and the demand for coal will keep growing. However, the overall coal consumption may be less than previously estimated.

The clinker.

The technology is not standing still. There are new cementitious materials that make clinker less used during the production of cement. This means that the industry needs less coal.

The amount of clinker used has dropped significantly over the course of last years. The reduction has been visible and the clinker factor changed by 8% over the course of last two decades. It is possible that by 2050 we will see the global clinker reduced to 65% which is more than achievable judging by the example of Brazilian cement manufacturers who reduced the clonker factor to practical 67%. This means that in 30 years we will have to use less coal with the reduction of consumption near 13%.

Thermal Efficiency.

While the global cement manufacturing has changed drastically and shifted from wet to dry method of production, there is still room for improvement.

The technology keeps improving and the energy consumption becomes more and more efficient. For example, the heat usage for grey cement changed notably from 3750Mj per ton to 3520Mj per ton over the course of 12 years (from 2000 to 2012). This is a 6.6% decrease. At the same time, the best cement plants in the world are much more efficient and use less than 3000Mj per ton.
Due to a plethora of factors, it is nearly impossible for specific manufacturing facilities to reach this level of efficiency. However, even these facilities can improve. Modern facilities will be way more efficient. This means that the average heat consumption should be near 3200-3300Mj per ton by 2050 when the industry adopts more efficient management and production methods across the board.

The Main Takeaways

Taking into consideration everything that we have covered in the article above, we can make a couple of predictions regarding the usage of coal in the industry by 2050. Here are our estimations:

  • Estimated global cement demand in 2050 is roughly 5.7Bnt.
  • Estimated coal consumption by the global cement industry by 2050 is roughly 500Mt per year.
  • The share of alternative fuels (~13%) is roughly 65Mt.
  • The influence of the clinker factor (~13%) gets us to roughly 378.45Mt.
  • Thermal efficiency factor is also roughly 12% and indicates that the estimated coal consumption could be around 333Mt.

The current coal consumption of the whole cement industry is roughly 340Mt per year. This means that even with the growth of the demand, the whole industry will require nearly the same amount of coal as it uses as of right now.

Depending on the overall coal consumption the share of the global cement industry may be less or more significant. However, the whole industry will keep being one of the most important factors in both protecting the environment from greenhouse gases and studying the efficiency of resource usage. Coal will be the main fuel source for the whole industry in the next decades.

The Strommashina plant in Samara produces and installs coal processing machinery – as well as dryers, crushers, feeders, cyclones and separators. Strommashina has been producing reliable equipment for the energy industry since 1942. Over that time, the corporation has been continuously honing its technology and quality control – thus resulting in Strommashina's appearance on the world market for industrial equipment. The company's specialist staff are on hand to offer their advice in designing and purchasing equipment, as well as providing expert technical advice and support at every stage of the design, set-up, inception and operation of the equipment they produce. - See more at: