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Reaching Net Zero Emissions From the Cement Industry Sector is Possible by Mid Century

Reaching net-zero carbon emissions from the cement sector is technically and financially possible by 2060 according to the Sectoral Focus published today by the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC). This Sectoral Focus presents in more detail the underlying analysis on cement industry decarbonization that fed into the ETC’s integrated report Mission Possible: Reaching net-zero carbon emissions from harder-to-abate sectors by mid-century.

The Sectoral Focus says that decarbonizing the cement sector poses one of the most difficult challenges in the shift to a low-carbon economy due to process emissions, which are particularly difficult to avoid. New cement chemistries could be less carbon-intensive, but there is a risk that these new chemistries can only make a moderate contribution to emissions reductions due to scarcities of local resource supply and differences in the resulting cement properties.

Eliminating process emissions will require the use of carbon capture, which will inevitably add some cost, even if the CO2 is then used as input to concrete rather than simply stored. Meanwhile, carbon emissions from heat used in cement production could be reduced via a switch from coal to gas (particularly in China) and could eventually be eliminated via heat electrification, the use of biomass or the use of hydrogen. But, each of these three routes would likely entail significant additional costs.

Reducing carbon emissions from cement will therefore also entail better demand management. Cement is an essential construction material, key to the development of regions like India and Africa which are still in the process of urbanizing and building up key infrastructure. Unless there is a major shift to use timber as a substitute for buildings material, which is not without its own challenges, total global cement production will continue to grow rapidly. However, demand growth could be slowed down via greater materials efficiency in building design, waste reduction and some materials circularity.

Given these challenges, cement decarbonization is likely to imply a significant increase in cement prices and could account for circa 60% of the global costs of decarbonizing all the harder-to-abate industrial sectors. But these costs can probably be absorbed by the economy without adverse consequences, given the inherently local nature of cement production and distribution, and the limited impact on end consumer prices.

The ETC provides the fact base for industry groups and private companies to develop roadmaps, collaborations and projects aiming for net-zero carbon emissions in their sectors. It also encourages businesses across multiple sectors to question their procurement practices and make commitments to buying “green” products and services.

The members of the Energy Transitions Commission are committed to achieving a net-zero carbon economy by mid-century. They are convinced that succeeding in that historic endeavor would not only limit the harmful impact of climate change, but would also drive prosperity and deliver important local environmental benefits.

At the launch of Mission Possible Lord Adair Turner, co-chair of the ETC said, “This report sets out an optimistic but completely realistic message – we can build a zero-carbon economy with a minor cost to economic growth. We should now commit to achieving this by 2060 at the latest, and put in place the policies and investments required to deliver it.”

Find the Cement Sectoral Focus here:

About The Energy Transitions Commission
The Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) brings together a diverse group of individuals from the energy and climate communities: investors, incumbent energy companies, industry disruptors, equipment suppliers, energy-intensive industries, non-profit organizations, advisors, and academics from across the developed and developing world. Our aim is to accelerate change towards low-carbon energy systems that enable robust economic development and limit the rise in global temperature to well below 2˚C. See below the list of ETC Commissioners.

The Mission Possible report was developed by the Commissioners with the support of the ETC Secretariat, provided by SYSTEMIQ. It draws upon a set of analyses carried out by Material Economics, McKinsey & Company, University Maritime Advisory Services and SYSTEMIQ for and in partnership with the ETC, as well as a broader literature review.

Emerging findings were subject to a 6-month consultation process through which we received inputs from nearly 200 experts from companies, industry initiatives, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and academia, whom we would like to warmly thank for their contributions.

This report constitutes a collective view of the Energy Transitions Commission. Members of the ETC endorse the general thrust of the arguments made in this report, but should not be taken as agreeing with every finding or recommendation. The institutions with which the Commissioners are affiliated have not been asked to formally endorse the report.