- The cement industry and the environment go hand in hand. The environmental impact of this industry is particularly evident in the release of particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5 and PM1), as well as other substances such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide.
- Carbon footprint of cement is also an aspect to consider, as it is an industry with very high energy requirements that can only be met by fossil fuels.
- A clear example of the benefits of air quality monitoring in the surroundings of cement plants is the project developed by Kunak at the CEMEX plant in Monterrey (Mexico).
Cement production is one of the most important activities in the world economy. After all, it and concrete, one of its main derivatives, are responsible for the major constructions and infrastructures that make urban development possible.
However, this productive activity can generate various problems for the environment. Thus, it is common for the environmental impact of the cement industry to be felt both in the extraction of raw materials and in the manufacturing processes. And one of the main receptors of these impacts is the atmosphere, which is why our solutions take on special relevance.
The cement industry and the environment: why is air quality monitoring useful?
Cement is a pulverulent material formed from a mixture of limestone, slate, marl, etc. Its manufacture requires the extraction of raw materials in a quarry, which are transformed through a process that includes crushing operations, calcination in powerful kilns or grinding.
But this manufacturing process, as described below, releases pollutant gases and particulate matter that can cause a public nuisance.
The suitability of measuring air quality through a practical case study
It was the public outcry that prompted CEMEX, one of the world’s leading cement manufacturers, to contact Kunak.
The objective was to install a perimeter monitoring ring at its production plant in Monterey (Mexico).
This Mexican multinational has been investing heavily in sustainability for several years, demonstrating its commitment to the well-being of the local population, its employees and its compliance with environmental regulations.
So calling on our expertise was an almost obligatory step in their emissions reduction strategy. After all, the innovative technologies and excellent data quality provided by solutions like our Kunak AIR Pro make all the difference and contribute to more informed decision-making.
And the results have certainly not been slow in coming. In 2019, CEMEX achieved a significant reduction in its emissions compared to 2005 levels, year zero when it began investing in improving air quality.
Major air emissions from cement
This case study shows how our solutions help to improve air quality. However, we believe it is worth delving a little deeper into the type of pollutants and the environmental impact of the cement industry on the atmosphere.
For example, the most common emissions include (1):
- Particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5 and PM1): two of the main sources of dust are the transport of material in lorries and the chimneys of the kiln system. The installation of exhaust filters has, however, reduced the incidence of this problem.
- Nitrogen oxides (NOx): these are generated during combustion processes at high temperatures.
- Sulphur dioxide (SO2): its release is largely determined by the sulphur content of the raw materials.
- Chlorides and fluorides: their origin can be either in the raw materials or in the fuels used during the manufacturing process.
- VOC, CO and NH3 emissions: these are insignificant emissions due to the high combustion temperatures.
- Heavy metals: may be retained in small quantities in the clinker.
The carbon footprint of cement, the contribution to global warming
Cement manufacturing not only releases polluting gases that can be harmful to human health. It is also a voracious consumer of energy, needed to raise the temperature of the kilns to the required 1400-1500°C. In fact, about 11% of the industry’s total energy consumption is attributed to this sector (2).
A consequence of this process is the CO2 emissions that contribute to global warming. Globally, cement production accounts for about 7% of global carbon dioxide emissions (3).
The environmental impact of cement is undoubtedly high. Exposure to the particulate matter or gaseous pollutants it emits can cause problems for human health. These emissions are one of the most relevant issues that this type of industry has to face.
But its contribution is, today, essential to the progress of the economy as we know it. In fact, if cement did not exist, the world would be very different from the way we know it.
The secret, in our view, lies in learning to combine economic growth with environmental protection. In making use, for example, of best practices and technologies to reduce particulate matter emissions.
And monitoring air quality to track progress (or setbacks) is going to be a must.
- (1) European Environment Agency (2019). EMEP/EEA air pollutant emission inventory guidebook 2019. Technical guidance to prepare national emission inventories. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2019. ISBN 978-92-9480-098-5. Available in https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/emep-eea-guidebook-2019/part-b-sectoral-guidance-chapters/2-industrial-processes/2-a-mineral-products/2-a-1-cement-production/view
- (2) Kumar Verma, Y., Mazumdar, B., & Ghosh, P. (2020). Thermal energy consumption and its conservation for a cement production unit. Environmental Engineering Research. https://doi.org/10.4491/eer.2020.111
- (3) M. El-Sayed, A., A. Faheim, A., A. Salman, A., & M. Saleh, H. (2021). Introductory Chapter: Cement Industry. Cement Industry – Optimization, Characterization And Sustainable Application. https://doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.95053