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CalPortland is one of the largest producers of powder cement on the West Coast. They have committed to achieving carbon neutrality in a notoriously climate unfriendly industry. The first step towards carbon neutrality is by switching the blend of their raw materials to reduce CO2 emissions. This innovation helps solve UN SDG #9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure) because it creates a more sustainable and environmentally friendly building product for future generations to come.
Powder cement is an extremely important raw material in the production of concrete products, which is an essential building material for construction around the world. Traditionally, cement manufacturing has been extremely environmentally intensive, requiring mining and the crushing and firing of this mined material at over 3,000°F to calcify the material, which is around ¼ the temperature of the surface of the Sun. The main source of energy for these kilns is coal, which is extremely environmentally unsustainable. Cement manufacturing constitutes around 5% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.
Around 5 years ago, CalPortland Cement initiated the development of a new type of cement, which increased the limestone content of the cement from 5-15%. Unlike clay, iron oxide, and bauxite, which make up the other raw materials in cement, the limestone does not need to be fired in the kiln at high temperatures because it is already calcified. CalPortland branded this new blend of cement Advancement and began solely manufacturing this blend in 2019. Since the introduction of this blend, CalPortland has reduced their coal consumption and CO2 emissions by 32%.
While these changes fall under multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals, the two goals that the innovation best fits are Goals 9 (Innovation and Infrastructure) and 12 (Responsible Consumption). By increasing the limestone content in the cement, CalPortland does not have to mine as many intensive raw materials and does not have to kiln-fire as much as these other materials. This leads to a more sustainable product for stakeholders and the environment.
Gary Kirk is the Vice President of Technical Services at CalPortland. In his role, he is responsible for creating the blends of cement, monitoring quality control and facility emissions, and government relations. With over 20 years in the cement industry, he understood the environmental and social impacts that cement manufacturing possessed. His main inspiration for the creation of Advancement was to better CalPortland’s environmental track record and maintain their reputation as an industry leader and sustainable producer. He commented, “In October 2021, America’s cement manufacturers committed to the ambitious goal of reaching carbon neutrality throughout the cement-concrete-construction value chain by 2050. In California, the carbon neutrality timeline is reduced to 2045.” The main goal that Mr. Kirk continues to strive for carbon neutrality in CalPortland’s operations.
He argued that while it will be difficult for CalPortland to achieve carbon neutrality, it is not impossible. The changing of the manufacturing process and the introduction of Advancement is the first step towards this lofty goal. He remarked that carbon neutrality is the end goal and that CalPortland needs to continue to innovate to achieve this goal. By taking these baby steps such as introducing Advancement and shifting to renewable energy sources, carbon neutrality is not out of the question.
The creation and implementation of Advancement has and will continue to have many short term and long term positive impacts on all stakeholders involved. Firstly, CalPortland has reduced their CO2 emissions by 32% since the new blend was implemented. This is incredibly important because cement manufacturing accounts for 5% of the world’s CO2 emissions. By reducing their carbon footprint, CalPortland is improving the lives of all stakeholders. There are less emissions in the immediate vicinity of the facility, which benefits all employees and local residents.
Additionally, by increasing the limestone content in the cement, which is sourced locally within the facility, CalPortland has reduced their dependence on other raw materials that are mined at remote locations, requiring large distances of transport to the plant. By increasing the limestone content by 10%, that is 10% less material that needs to be mined at other locations and transported by rail and freight into the facility.
Long term, this innovation brings CalPortland one step closer to their goal of carbon neutrality by 2045. By cutting CO2 emissions by 32%, they are moving in the right direction towards manufacturing a more sustainable product. Cement will always be a necessary material in the building industry, and with the dire need for more affordable housing on the West Coast, CalPortland stands to be a key player in the creation of more sustainable building and the reduction of our carbon footprint.
The introduction of Advancement has added many benefits for CalPortland as a business. Firstly, it has allowed CalPortland to grow ever closer to their end goal of carbon neutrality. A true advancement towards their goals gives the employees of the company a sense of pride as well because it shows that CalPortland cares about its stakeholders and the environment. A company is more likely to retain employees when those employees feel that they are working towards a good cause. The innovation has not only improved employee retention, but has also improved the physical well-being of those employees. By reducing emissions at the manufacturing facility through the introduction of this innovation, CalPortland has lessened the exposure of harmful pollutants that employees get exposed to on a daily basis.
In addition to improved employee retention and well-being, the introduction of Advancement has had multiple positive impacts on the operational and fiscal side of the business. Throughout the process of this innovation, no new infrastructure or capital improvements were needed to host Advancement. This means that CalPortland was able to reap the full benefits of a newer, more environmentally friendly product without having to drastically alter operations or make expensive improvements to a large scale facility. The introduction of Advancement has also presented opportunities to CalPortland’s customers that did not exist before. Customers who use Advancement in their products automatically reduce their impacts on the environment because they are using a cement that has a lower CO2 impact. Additionally, CalPortland was the first cement producer in California to make a lower limestone content cement which enabled them to more effectively market their innovation than their competition.
The introduction of Advancement stands to benefit both society and the environment tremendously. As mentioned earlier, the increase of limestone by 10% in the manufacturing process has led to a 32% drop in the consumption of coal in CalPortland’s Mojave facility. Gary Kirk commented, “Limestone is calcium carbonate and by replacing calcined clinker with limestone, you reduce the CO2 associated with the clinker and the fuel required for the calcination.” This drop in coal consumption has had direct positive implications in CalPortland’s CO2 emissions. By decreasing its CO2 emissions through this innovation, CalPortland draws one step closer to its eventual goal of carbon neutrality by 2045.
Additionally, through the development of this innovation, CalPortland stands to be an industry leader in the development of a greener and more climate-friendly building future that benefits both society as a whole as well as the environment. By implementing Advancement into their products, customers are able to use a greener building material in the construction of public infrastructure, affordable housing, and educational institutions. The introduction of this innovation stands to create buildings that are more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, which will create a more sustainable future for generations to come.
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Gary Kirk, Vice President of Technical Services