24 Oct 2023
Concrete has proven itself the near perfect building material over the last few thousand years and is nearly ubiquitous in our man-made environment – from the Pantheon in Rome to the world tallest skyscrapers. Used more than any other substance on Earth except water, concrete’s physical footprint is huge. Unfortunately, that same can be said of its climate footprint. The culprit is cement, the key ingredient in concrete used to bind sand and gravel. Due to the high heat required and chemical reactions involved, cement production generates some 4 billion metric tons of CO2 annually – roughly 8% of global CO2 emissions. If cement production were a country, it would place third on the list of emission heavyweights, behind only China and the U.S. 
Since 1980, cement production has increased almost fivefold – and the trend is upward. Sources: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), VDZ Verein Deutscher Zementwerke e.V.
Aware of cement’s impact, the Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA) launched its 2050 Climate Ambition program to achieve carbon neutral concrete by 2050. To get there, GCCA is counting on a long list of action measures: energy efficiency, alternative fuels, de-carbonization of raw materials and fuels, innovative materials and more efficiently designed cement plants, to name a few. But the single biggest piece of the GCCA’s carbon-neutral puzzle is carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) – separating CO2 from emission stacks to re-use it in industrial processes or inject it deep underground where it can no longer impact our atmosphere.
The good news for cement and other hard-to-abate industries, is that carbon capture technology is nothing new. Amine based CO2 separation, the most mature and widespread of today’s carbon capture methods, has been used for decades in the oil & gas industry. But retrofitting a cement plant with a carbon capture installation remains a costly proposition. There are no “off-the-shelf” carbon capture plants available (yet) to cement producers, in large part because of the countless variables involved: What is the precise makeup of the plant’s flue gas? Will the plant require additional energy input and if so how much? How stable is the amine solvent under these particular conditions? What impact will the high levels of dust emissions have on the plant’s longevity? What options are available for reusing the captured CO2?
Today’s heavy emitters face increased pressure from regulators and other stakeholders to take action on CO2 removal. But because the market for captured carbon is still in its infancy, they are looking at a significant upfront investment with a lot of moving parts.
With more than a century of experience designing and installing gas cleaning and emission reduction systems, GEA is developing its own carbon capture portfolio that includes waste heat recovery, gas pre-treatment, state-of-the-art carbon capture, as well as support with CO2 utilization and storage. Dr. Felix Ortloff, Senior Director GEA Carbon Capturing, sees an opportunity to help cement and other hard to abate industries make the transition to carbon capture quickly and economically. “GEA has developed a highly standardized line of carbon capture solutions designed to help plant operators get started now with CO2 removal,” says Ortloff. “Our expertise in gas cleaning and heat recovery – combined with our core engineering capability – has allowed us to create an end-to-end CO2 removal solution that is both fit for purpose and cost effective.”
GEA customers can choose from four differently sized carbon capture plants – a choice determined primarily by how much waste heat their own plant generates. “Our focus for now is efficiency in relation to the entire plant, so we want to take maximum advantage of heat recovery,” says Ortloff. “The benefit for the customer is that they can begin capturing their CO2 with little or no additional energy input. For a large cement plant with heavy carbon dioxide emissions, the available waste heat is a good starting point, enabling a 20% heat-neutral reduction in CO2 emissions on average. In other industries, such as glass, an even a higher reduction is possible. Once the solution is in place and performing as desired, additional capacity to remove more CO2 can always be installed.”
- Dr. Felix Ortloff, Senior Director, Carbon Capture Solutions, GEA
Ortloff and his team are currently testing GEA’s carbon capture plant as part of an extensive pilot project at cement manufacturer PHOENIX Zementwerke in Beckum, Germany. “Sustainable business practice and climate protection are integral to our corporate strategy,” says PHOENIX Zementwerke managing director Marcel Gustav Krogbeumker. “With production capacity of some 500,000 metric tons of cement per year and daily emissions of 1,000 tons of CO2 on average, we have a responsibility to minimize our footprint. We are proud of our CCS project with GEA and are taking advantage of the pilot plant at our Beckum site to get started with carbon capture. The project has already attracted a great deal of interest from both private and public sectors,” says Krogbeumker. “We consider carbon capture a very exciting technology. And thanks to GEA’s decades-long experience in emission control systems, I am very optimistic that we can develop a solution that will significantly reduce our emissions.”
- Marcel Gustav Krogbeumker, Managing Director PHOENIX Zementwerke
The pilot plant is helping GEA and PHOENIX Zementwerke fine tune their analysis of cement plant emissions – particularly the harmful trace components to be removed during the flue gas pre-treatment – and gather important data on the stability of the amine solvent system during the carbon capture phase. According to Ortloff, the pilot has so far achieved GEA’s aim of 90% CO2 removal efficiency. “An even higher rate of carbon capture – roughly 95% – is technically possible, but this would require greater energy input and negatively impact overall cost efficiency,” explains Ortloff. “90% is the desirable target that also makes the most financial sense.”
Field test for carbon capture at Phoenix cement plant in Beckum, Westphalia, Germany. In conversation: Marcel Gustav Krogbeumker, Managing Director Phoenix-Zementwerke (left), Dr. Felix Ortloff, Senior Director, Carbon Capture Solutions, GEA (right). Image: GEA/Tim Luhmann
As a next step, Krogbeumker plans to work with GEA on a comprehensive CCUS concept for the PHOENIX Zementwerke site in Beckum. “We will evaluate all the data and then discuss the possibility of scaling up carbon capture for our cement plant,” he says. “The question is: Do we opt for carbon storage – in old oil fields and shafts under the North Sea, for example? Or do we want to process the CO2 for re-use? And if we choose the latter: how can we expand the pilot plant so it can clean the CO2 enough to meet the high standards required by the chemical and food industries? Where and in which industries can we find customers for the CO2? What kind of infrastructure do we need to provide for transport? Are we talking about pipelines, reactivating the rail facility, or do we need truck transport? These are interesting and exciting times for us, and I’m confident we can accomplish a lot together with GEA.”
Utilization and storage of CO2 is the critical last step of the carbon capture process. GEA’s current expertise in CO2 utilization is focused on two areas. In the brewery sector, GEA recovers CO2 from the fermentation process, liquefies it and then extracts oxygen so the CO2 can be reused in beverage production. GEA also produces carbonates from captured CO2, such as sodium bicarbonate, for use in the food and pharmaceutical industry. “Every customer is going to have different options available to them for utilizing their captured CO2,” explains Ortloff. “We would consider on a case-by-case basis whether there’s a potential CO2 consumer in their vicinity, and what requirements that business has for the CO2 in terms of purity, physical state, pressure and temperature. We can then prepare the CO2 to meet these needs.”
Ortloff sees methanol production as another option for CO2 usage in the medium term – to be used directly as fuel, upgraded to other fuel components, or in the chemical industry as a seed building block. Other uses for captured CO2 include the production of plastics or even concrete itself. One such solution involves injecting CO2 into concrete, where it undergoes mineralization and is embedded as a solid in the building material. But as Ortloff makes clear: even if the market for carbon utilization matures, the amount of captured CO2 is likely to far outweigh the quantities that can be supplied to CCU. This means that carbon capture storage (CCS) solutions will be essential to realizing the promise of CO2 capture in the near to mid-term to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to meet the needs of a warming planet.
Carbon storage is another example of a well-established oil & gas industry technology that needs to be scaled u.p. Sure enough, governments and industry are ramping up CCS capacity at an impressive rate. According to the Global CSS Institute, 30 CCS facilities were in operation globally at the end of 2022, with an additional 11 under construction and 153 in development, bringing total CCS capacity to 244 million metric tons annually – 44% more than the year previous. Significant investment tax credits in Canada and federal funding in the U.S. (Inflation Reduction Act 2022) have North America leading the way in CCS development and deployment. Europe is close behind.  The EU Innovation Fund plans to invest some EUR 38 billion in clean technologies across Europe by 2030 and is already supporting large-scale CCS projects in multiple industries, with particular emphasis on cement. Although China, the world’s largest cement producer, has been slower to take action thus far, it is now increasing efforts to develop CCUS technology. In July 2023, China announced the launch of its largest CCUS project to date for the cement industry. 
- Dr. Felix Ortloff, Senior Director, Carbon Capture Solutions, GEA
Just as alternative drive technologies will require new electricity and hydrogen infrastructure, carbon capture utilization and storage will require a new CO2 infrastructure to transport captured CO2 from industrial emission sources to wherever it is used or stored. One such example is a joint project by OGE, a leading gas transmission operator in Europe, and Tree Energy Solutions, a hydrogen company based in Belgium, to construct a 1,000 km pipeline for transporting some 18 million metric tons of CO2 per year. In this case the CO2 will serve as a carrier of renewable hydrogen from solar, wind and hydropower installations throughout Europe to the project’s “green energy hub” in Wilhelmshaven, Germany. “When it comes to transmitting and sequestering the CO2, the pipeline or storage facility will also have their specifications for the CO2,” says Ortloff. “The fact that we can provide the carbon capture, purification and liquefaction technology ‘under one roof’ makes it easier for our customers to meet these requirements.”
Decarbonization of the cement industry requires new uses for CO2 and the development of a carbon dioxide infrastructure.
The carbon capture technology ramping up today in the fight against global warming will borrow heavily from established oil and gas industry technology and infrastructure. CCUS technology has matured over the years in pursuit of very profitable fossil fuels – as a means to an end. Today, capturing and locking up the inert CO2 is in many cases the end in itself – And signs point to a future in which CO2 in captivity will make both environmental and economic sense. “It’s exciting to imagine a robust market for captured carbon, with cement plants around the world achieving 90% CO2 removal,” says Ortloff. “For now, pressure from regulators and other stakeholders is forcing companies to invest in these first steps towards a new carbon economy, and GEA is in a strong position to help them expedite this transition.”
GEA is one of the world’s largest systems suppliers for the food, beverage and pharmaceutical sectors. Our portfolio includes machinery and plants as well as advanced process technology, components and comprehensive services. Used across diverse industries, they enhance the sustainability and efficiency of production processes globally.
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