Skip to content

☁️ Decarbonizing Cement

My Climate Journey

Photo by Anaya Katlego / Unsplash

Host: Jason Jacobs
Guest: Cody Finke | Co-Founder & CEO | Brimstone Energy
Category: ☁️ Carbon Reduction

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[4:13] “We are working on decarbonizing the cement industry. How we're doing that is we are making ordinary Portland cement. Nothing really new there. That's what every cement company in the world makes today. We're just changing how it's made. So we are making it in a way that does not emit CO2. I want to be really clear. We're not doing carbon capture and storage play. That's an add on to a commercial cement process. We are just not making the CO2.”

[4:48] “Cement is really interesting […]. Most of the CO2 has nothing to do with fossil fuel. Today, Portland cement is made from a rock colored limestone. You quarry limestone, grind it up into a powder and put it into a kiln. And inside the kiln, you heat up the limestone to first about 900 degrees Celsius. At that point, the limestone itself decomposes into lime and CO2. So the rock actually turns into CO2. You take that lime and you heat it up further to about 1,400 degrees Celsius, which is one of the hottest industrial processes. Then it reacts with some other rocks and turns into Portland cement. In this cement industry, in general, about 60% of the emissions come from the CO2 that comes out of the rock. And then about 40% of the emissions come from burning fossil fuels to heat up the rock. What comes out of that is what's called Portland cement. […] There's actually one more step that's required in order to make cement and that's blending the Portland cement with a supplementary cementitious material. Supplementary cementitious materials are amorphous silica […]. They come typically from waste products of burning coal […]. You mix that stuff together with Portland cement, and then you have cement.”

[6:25] “All we're doing is we realize that lime is the key ingredient in Portland cement. And there's lots of places where you can get lime. Right now we get lime from limestone, which is attached to CO2. We don't, the industry does. We get lime from calcium silicate rocks. These are basically the most common rocks on the surface of the earth. They contain lime and they also contain lots of silica. We extract that lime via a chemical process, we heat that lime up just like a conventional cement kiln and produce Portland cement. The lime that we source doesn't have any CO2 attached to it. So we don't make any of the CO2 that comes from the rock.

[15:13] “There's a ton of reasons why cements gotta be difficult to decarbonize. There's a scientific reason, […] which is that most of the CO2 emissions have nothing to do with a fossil fuel. Decarbonizing cement isn't just a cheap, clean energy story. It's a new chemistry story. I don't actually think that changing the chemistry or figuring out a novel process […] that that's especially difficult […]. I think it's very understudied. People haven't seen the options out there, because the cement industry flies under the radar, people already think about cement.”

[16:09] “There's another reason why it's difficult to decarbonize, that's more of a business model reason. So in my view, it's a little bit like the hydrogen story. Cement plants, they are huge and there are not many cement companies. There's maybe 5 or 10, giant cement companies […] and they own 70% of the cement production in the world, they have simply regional monopolies. And if you were to go try to be the Tesla of cement or something and start your own cement company, it'd be very hard to fight for market share. […] I have to get to an enormous scale to be cost competitive, because there's huge economies of scale. You also have to convince people that your new process is low risk enough to sign a contract, and you're going to be around. It's a very risk averse industry. […] We are, at this point, pretty certain that our process works. We are building a pilot and we are getting more certain that the engineering works. What we're spending a lot of time thinking about is how can we leverage the existing players in the cement industry, to work together to decarbonize the cement industry.”

[28:17] “We're only going to transition if it is cheaper, more convenient, a better tool for the job. Lower CO2 alone isn't nearly enough for anything. […] Lower CO2, if it gets adopted, is going to decarbonize, but lower CO2 by itself is not enough to get adopted. […] And the fact of the matter is with demand right now, the cement industry is challenged because they have for a long time depended on the coal industry to provide them with a robust source of supplementary cementitious materials. The process that they use for cement is now inappropriate for the energy system that we have, which is dominated by oil and natural gas, which doesn't make fly ash and doesn't make slag. If a cement company were to use our process, it would allow them to produce both their supplementary cementitious material and their Portland cement, which would save them a lot of cost in terms of logistics and would be a more appropriate technology for the energy that's available.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify (Original Title: "Startup Series: Brimstone Energy")
🕰️ 43 min | 🗓️ 11/11/2021
✅ Time saved: 41 min

Additional Links:
Join the My Climate Journey Community