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Cement Industry: Carbon Dioxide

Volume 831: debated on Wednesday 12 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what proposals they have to support lower volumes of carbon dioxide production, as well as increased carbon capture and storage, in the cement industry.

My Lords, the Government are committed to working with the cement sector to explore decarbonisation options and are pursuing several strategic funding and policy initiatives. This includes developing options for access to CCUS. In March this year, as part of the CCUS cluster sequencing process, the Government published the Track-1 project negotiation list, which included the Hanson Padeswood cement works project. That was one of five projects to proceed to negotiations for support through the relevant business model.

I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. As cement accounts for about 8% of our carbon dioxide output, this is a crucial area for us to pay attention to. May I draw my noble friend’s attention to the importance of standards in this area? So many specify which materials should be used, rather than what performance should be achieved. If the Government could help the transformation of that, there would be much more ability to use bath furnace slag and more modern additives such as graphene.

The figures I have are slightly different; my figures say that the sector accounts for 1.5% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The sector has made strong progress in reducing its emissions. Of course, we stand by to help it further. It is a particularly difficult sector to decarbonise, given that 70% of its emissions are process-related.

My Lords, I have to admit that I agree with the Minister; I think the figure is 1.5%. We have an important cement industry in this country on which many other sectors are dependent. However, five out of 10 plants are not in one of the industrial areas in which we are going to have a concentration of carbon capture and storage—there are five others outside those areas. In the past, the Government have suggested that there would be a lifeline for enabling carbon capture and storage for those other five. Where are we on that? Are the Government still positive about aiding the whole sector to decarbonise?

I thank the Liberal Democrats for agreeing with something I have said, for a change; that is a welcome departure from normal practice. I agree with the noble Lord, and as I said, this is a difficult sector to decarbonise. We are working with it and having regular meetings. There are 10 cement plants in the UK, only one of which is situated in an existing cluster. Of course, we are considering expressions of interest from additional clusters at the moment. I would not want to predict that process. Whatever happens, CCUS will clearly be a key technology for many cement plants. We have funded a number of feasibility projects with existing suppliers and will continue to work with them.

My Lords, what are the Government doing to encourage alternative building methods that do not need cement, or need much smaller volumes of cement? That would help with the carbon issue quite dramatically.

The noble Lord makes a good point. We are exploring the role that demand-side policies could play in creating demand for low-carbon cement, or indeed less demand for cement. We recently concluded a consultation which sought feedback on proposals for low-carbon standards, and we will continue to pursue that.

My Lords, as well as CO2 being produced as a by-product of the chemical reaction in cement production, the other main source of emissions is the high heat required: around 1,400 degrees centigrade or more. What work are the Government doing to support a road map for the development of electric kilns?

That is one of technologies we are looking at. We also gave £3.2 million to the Mineral Products Association to develop a low-carbon fuel mix for cement. It held a trial at Hanson’s Ribblesdale plant and Tarmac’s Tunstead plant using a mix of 100% net-zero fuels, including hydrogen.

My Lords, I too agree with the Minister that the concrete industry accounts for approximately 1.5% of emissions in this country. Globally, the figure rises to 8%, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said. Last year, a report from the Low Carbon Concrete Group suggested that the UK concrete industry could become a carbon sink by the 2040s. Welcome though this prediction is, we must recognise that this is a global problem. What steps are the Government taking to encourage other countries to set out and achieve similarly ambitious goals?

Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour agreeing with me is destroying my credibility on this side of the House. I agree with the noble Lord; we are seeking to work with other countries as well. One of the issues in the sector, as we look to reform the ETS, is carbon leakage. We must make sure we do all we can to avoid it.

My Lords, if we are to reduce the use of cement, the move from demolishing buildings and rebuilding them—particularly in the commercial sector—to adaptation is an important part of that. As I walk down Victoria Street every morning, I see buildings being demolished and buildings replacing others which are only 40 years old. That is clearly crazy, and adaptation is a way for us to build a more sustainable economy. What are the Government doing to improve incentives and regulations to make the adaptation of established buildings, rather than their replacement, a priority?

The noble Lord makes a good point. We should, of course, always look at adaptation. As for his particular example, I can think of one building on Victoria Street, occupied by my department, which definitely should be demolished as soon as possible—

There is too much agreement in the House today with the Liberal Democrats. Setting aside personal views, his overall point is right: of course we should look at adaptation and reuse if possible.

This is one of a number of different policies that we need to look at. Does the noble Baroness mean adaptation to climate change, or does she mean adaptation of existing buildings? Of course we are looking at both.