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Hydrogen and concrete: a world first for net zero and green jobs

Credit: Hanson UK

Mineral Products Association

4 min read Partner content

If we are to succeed in decarbonising energy intensive industry in the UK, building hydrogen-based infrastructure will be key to creating a net zero economy.

With Government and private sector funding, new hydrogen industrial clusters which combine Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (CCUS) can support essential UK manufacturing industries such as concrete and cement.   

The benefits will be significant. These technologies would help to accelerate industrial decarbonisation, create UK net zero manufacturing jobs and retain UK production of concrete and cement. As we have seen with global logistics challenges, continuing to produce these materials domestically remains critical for maintaining the resilience of the UK's national construction supply chain.

However, before this infrastructure is put in place, it’s essential that we understand how hydrogen technology cement plants can operate.

Late last year, a world-first trial in Lancashire demonstrated the opportunity. 

Led by the Mineral Products Association (MPA), Hanson UK and made possible by Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) funding, the trial used a mix of 100 per cent net zero fuels including hydrogen for commercial scale cement manufacture for the very first time any where in the world.

During the demonstration at Hanson Cement’s Ribblesdale plant in Lancashire – a culmination of several years of work – the proportion of fuels in the cement kiln’s main burner was gradually increased to a wholly net zero mix.

The mix consisted of tanker delivered hydrogen as well as meat and bone meal (MBM) and glycerine – by-products from the rendering and biodiesel industries respectively – demonstrating the pathway to moving away from using fossil fuels in cement and concrete production.

If fully implemented for the whole kiln system, nearly 180,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide could be saved each year at Ribblesdale alone compared to using the traditional fuel of coal at the site.

The UK concrete and cement sector is committed to advancing ground-breaking collaborative research and innovation to meet the industry’s climate change objectives. This world first trial demonstrated the potential of using net zero fuel mixes for the manufacture of cement at commercial scale.

Building on the significant steps the industry has already taken through the use of waste derived fuels, in the future we envisage that combining the use of net zero fuels with CCUS technology will enable the production of cement to capture more CO2 than it emits.

Switching away from fossil fuels, including the potential to adopt hydrogen technology, represents one of seven key levers in MPA UK Concrete’s Roadmap to Beyond Net Zero. Published in 2020, the roadmap sets out the UK concrete and cement industry’s own commitments to achieving net zero, having already decarbonised by 53% since 1990.

The level of investment needed to deliver a net zero UK concrete and cement industry is significant. There are a range of economic instruments such as new business models that Government could use to support industry, as identified in MPA UK Concrete's policy document on accelerating the net zero journey, published prior to COP26 last year. 

For example, industrial carbon capture business models using a contracts for difference (CfD) model could be used to reduce the initial gap between cost of decarbonisation and importers’ carbon costs to make investments possible. These business models could support sector-specific decarbonisation funding by guaranteeing availability for at least the next decade, to enable businesses to transition to net zero production.

The Government’s Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy has recognised the importance of decarbonising dispersed cement plants that are not geographically located in an industrial cluster. Equality of access to transport and storage infrastructure will be key to all of these sites, whether they are dispersed or operating in a cluster. The aim should be to develop local plans for each key industry to ensure necessary infrastructure is in place to tackle cross-chain risk for carbon capture and storage investment.

Hydrogen technology and our sector’s innovation at Ribblesdale has demonstrated the clear potential for UK net zero cement and concrete production.  The opportunity now is to drive the continued decarbonisation of this essential industry with sector-specific financial support from Government.

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