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Norwegian Factory Aims to Solve Cement’s Carbon Problem

The waste heat in cement production can drive technologies that can grab at least 30 percent of a plant’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Cement production is responsible for between 5 and 6 percent of human-generated carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.

A Norwegian cement factory has shown that it’s able to capture much of its own carbon dioxide. If the approach were to become widespread, it could have a significant impact, since cement production is responsible for more than 5 percent of all man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

The Norcem Brevik cement works south of Oslo, Norway, is demonstrating a new technology.

The Norcem Brevik cement works, tucked into a scenic harbor south of Oslo, has used waste heat to drive a process called amine scrubbing that, at test scales, removed between 30 and 40 percent of the total emissions from the plant’s flue gases.

“We think we are the first project that is testing technology in real cement-plant conditions,” said Liv-Margrethe Bjerge, project manager for the test at Norcem, which owns the Brevik plant. “It’s the only cement project doing post-combustion capture.”

Bjerge spoke in Austin, Texas, at the largest international conference on carbon capture and sequestration technologies.

The plant expects to begin full-scale operation with carbon capture next summer. It could serve as a model for many plants in Europe and around the world, she said. The company is demonstrating only carbon capture right now. Ultimately the carbon dioxide would probably get shipped to an offshore well for injection, which is the method available in Norway.

The plant is testing a few different technologies. In the one that’s yielded results so far, chemicals called amines pick up carbon dioxide and then release it when heated. Results are still pending for two other methods, Bjerge said. In one, calcium oxide combines with carbon dioxide to form calcium carbonate. The other uses membranes to capture the carbon dioxide.

While these carbon-capture processes have previously been tested in power plants, cement plants differ because their emissions include much higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, plus more dust and other contaminants.

Some more far-out ideas for capturing carbon from cement making include using concentrated sunlight to drive the production process (see “New Cement-Making Method Could Slash Carbon Emissions”). And some groups are working on adding materials to concrete that can later absorb carbon dioxide (see “TR10: Green Concrete”). In the United States, a startup called Skyonic is running a pilot plant at a cement mill to reuse carbon dioxide in sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda.

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