The government-backed decarbonisation project shows that energy-intensive cement production might not have to rely on fossil fuels.
During the demonstration, a culmination of several years of work, the proportion of fuels in the cement kiln’s main burner was gradually increased to a wholly net zero mix. At a 100% net zero mix, the proportion of fuels in the cement kiln was approximately 39% hydrogen, 12% meat and bone meal (MBM) and 49% glycerine – by-products from the rendering and biodiesel industries respectively.
The fuel switching trial used ‘grey’ hydrogen as a proof of concept but this could be substituted for ‘green’ hydrogen in future as and when availability improves.
If implemented across the whole kiln system at Ribblesdale, nearly 180,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide could be saved each year at this plant compared to using the traditional fuel of coal at the site, Hanson said.
The trail was conducted under the auspices of the Mineral Products Association (MPA). Richard Leese, MPA’s industrial policy, energy and climate change director, said: “Our sector is committed to advancing ground-breaking collaborative research and innovation to meet the industry’s climate change objectives. This world first trial has demonstrated the potential of using net zero fuel mixes for the manufacture of cement at commercial scale.
“Building on the significant steps our members have already taken through the use of waste derived fuels, in the future we envisage that combining the use of net zero fuels with carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) technology will enable the production of cement to capture more CO2 than it emits.”
Iain Walpole, Hanson UK’s environmental sustainability manager, who managed the project, said: “The results of the trial are exciting and the prospect of using hydrogen in the fuel mix will help us – and others in the sector – on the road to net zero carbon. It will also contribute to our ambition of supplying net zero carbon concrete by 2050.”
The £3.2m project was funded by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) as part of its industrial fuel switching competition.
It is one of two fuel switching trials being managed by the MPA. A site in Derbyshire operated by Tarmac will be hosting a demonstration using plasma energy with biofuel in the kiln’s calciner, alongside another trial exploring the use of hydrogen as an alternative to natural gas for lime manufacturing.
MPA will share results from all projects with cement producers and other energy-intensive industries both in the UK and globally as best practice examples, with the aim of spreading and maximising the environmental benefits of the technology.
The trial at Ribblesdale follows a BEIS-funded feasibility study in 2019 which demonstrated that a combination of biomass, hydrogen and plasma energy could be used to eliminate 100 per cent of fossil fuel CO2 emissions from cement manufacturing.
Fuel switching away from fossil fuels, including the potential to adopt hydrogen technology, represents one of seven key levers in MPA/UK Concrete’s Roadmap to Beyond Net Zero, published in October 2020.