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Understanding the Connection Between Coal and Cement

The vast majority of large cement manufacturers use coal as the main fuel for their facilities - for cement kilns and dryers. Obviously, the damage done to the environment is irreversible, but there are no other options for many companies. They have to use coal.

In order to manufacture 1 ton of cement, a facility has to spend anywhere from 200 to 450 kilograms of coal. This depends both on the technology and the quality of coal. Roughly 4% of worldwide coal production is rerouted to the cement industry.

With so many companies depending on coal and its availability as well as its prices, we simply have to discuss what may happen to the industry. Let’s talk about the connection between coal and cement industries and their prospects for the following 3-4 decades.

Overviewing the Coal Industry

The most recent report from the World Coal Association claims that the global reserve of coal is roughly 900 billion tons. With the current rate of mining, this reserve is more than enough to supply us for at least 110 years. There are 4 countries that possess world’s largest stocks of coal: China, Russian Federation, USA, and India.

Coal is a result of an incredibly long geological process involving amazingly high levels of pressure and extreme temperatures. After several millions of years under such conditions, coal is formed. Its properties and qualities depend mostly on characteristics of the vegetation. The calorific value, or the amount of energy that can be extracted from a certain amount of coal, depends greatly on the moisture content which depends on both pressure and temperature that formed coal. You can extract 15-27 thousand kilojoules from a kilo of coal. Refer to the figure in order to learn more about categorization.

Note that cement industry is very hungry for coal and spends it vigorously. There are various reasons why burning coal is more beneficial. It is relatively cheap, it is abundant, and it provides the most stable range of calorific values that can be controlled while many other fuels vary greatly complicating the management of the technological process.

The Coal Market and Its Statistics

The International Energy Agency recently published their report on the state of the industry. According to the data, the global coal production lost about 0.65% in volume. While steam coal has seen a drastic drop (0.9%), coking coal has risen for 2.6%. At the same time, ignite production has dropped 2.9%. Interestingly, the biggest “loser” in the race of coal miners was China that showed the biggest drop-off (9.6%). Greece and Ukraine also mined much less than previously. Ukraine managed to mine 35% less compared to the previous year. The spoils of war.
Despite a slight drop-off, China is still the world’s leader in terms of the amount of coal mined followed closely by USA, India, Australia, and Indonesia. The top 5 managed to mine nearly 6.3 billion tons in 2014 which is more that 78% of the world’s overall production. Note that all these countries (with the exception of Australia) are also world’s leaders in the cement industry being responsible for over 68% of the world’s overall cement production. The fifth industrial leader is Turkey. As mentioned before, over 4% of coal mined during the year is used in the cement industry.
The same report claims that the global consumption also suffered a slight drop-off losing over 0.8% Interestingly, all hardcore coal consumers are slowly reducing the amount of coal used annually. This does not apply to India which showed a 12% growth of the coal consumption in 2014. Another notable increase was demonstrated by South Korea that used over 115 million tons which is 4% more than in the previous year. Nearly 70% of coal mined throughout the year is then spent on heating and electricity. Due to the fact that these industries are slowly replacing fossil fuels with more environment friendly alternatives, we expect a slow decline in the coal usage by these domains.

Notable Trends and Changes in the Market.

Nearly 90% of the fuel used by the cement industry is coal. While the industry tried to slowly shift to alternatives, it is nearly impossible to make efficient other fuels that are highly volatile both in terms of pricing and properties. During last 2-3 decades, both Europe and America tried to reduce the amount of coal burnt to decrease the emission of CO2. However, the problem will not be solved until other fuels are just as efficient as coal which is still used generously in Asia.

The Impact of the Paris Agreement

In 2015, something really important happened. The COP21, which is a conference that gathers people who are concerned about the condition of the climate, stated that all participating countries must reduce the amount of CO2 produced by 2020. Various means and methods are being suggested and over 200 countries signed the agreement. There are several important pivots of the regulation:

  • The main focus of the regulation is to bring balance to the circulation of greenhouse gases and create a stable environment by 2050.
  • All efforts of countries that signed the conference are aimed at keeping the growth of global temperature within reasonable limits (1.5 degree Celsius).
  • The progress is inspected and heavily discussed each 5 years.
  • More developed countries decided to aid less developed countries in creating a healthier environment by funding their climate control programs for 100 billion US dollars annually.

The conference is a big step towards a much better environment. There were many representatives from the cement industry that ensured the global community that they will try their hardest to reduce the usage of fossil fuels in order to decrease the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere by cement production facilities. The whole industry is responsible for 4-5% of the worldwide CO2 emission. With eyes from all over the world pointed at this domain, we have to discuss what alternatives the industry has and how it will change in the nearest future.

Possible Developments in the Industry

The International Energy Agency expects that the worldwide demand for coal will continue growing. The least optimistic forecast from the agency hovers near the 0.4% growth per year. Note that coal is expected to be sued to generate over 30% of world’s electricity in 2040. The forecast claims that the growth of the production will be notable while the distribution is expected to be greatly uneven. Countries like India will continue to grow their consumption to support their growing economies.

While there is still no cheaper alternative for coal, the global pressure from environmentalists will definitely force even developing countries to significantly reduce the amount of coal burned yearly. In developing countries, we won’t see drastic changes in the cement industry fuel usage. It is expected that a redundant and easily accessible coal will still be the most frequently and widely used type of coal for cement production in less developed countries, notably in the Middle East, Middle Asia, and Africa. Interestingly, the forecast expects the United states of America to increase coal usage in the cement industry due to the availability of domestic resources.