The secret ingredient behind our daily lives… and how to make it net zero
The Mineral Products Association sets out a roadmap for how the lime production industry can be fully decarbonised by 2040.
What connects steel, drinking water, paper, glass, sugar, medicines, mortar, and even mobile phones?
One answer is that they’re all central to modern life. Another is that they all need lime in their production. Lime is the secret ingredient that underpins much of our daily lives; an unseen but vital component in many manufacturing processes ranging from agriculture to heavy industry, to construction, to food and drink and other consumer goods.
In addition, lime helps with protecting the environment from damaging emissions and pollution. It is used to treat sewage and capture polluting gases, such as those emitted by energy from waste plants, hospital incinerators and furnaces; and to neutralise liquid wastes from many other manufacturing processes that use acidic chemicals.
Modern life without lime is hard to imagine. The lime industry itself is also a British success story. The overwhelming majority of lime used in the UK is produced here, and 21% of UK-produced lime is exported overseas – predominantly specialist lime products for specific uses.
However, the lime industry faces a significant challenge in decarbonising production. Lime is an energy-intensive industry, with production processes that require temperatures above 900°C, and chemical reactions which generate CO2 as a by-product.
The industry has recognised this, and already acted to cut its absolute CO2 emissions by 25% since 2005 by improving efficiency. Now further, and bigger, steps will be needed to take lime production to net zero.
MPA Lime’s new roadmap to ‘net negative’ sets out these steps, and how Government can work with the industry to help eliminate its carbon footprint by 2040, and even go beyond that and draw more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits.
The main component of this plan is carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS). As CO2 is inescapably produced by the chemical reactions involved in lime production, this is a major and necessary part of decarbonising the lime industry; net zero can’t be achieved just by decarbonising the fuel.
While four of the UK’s five lime production sites can plug into Government-supported CCUS ‘clusters’, one site is considered ‘dispersed’ and not located close to industrial hubs which are the current focus for CCUS related infrastructure. However, that site could, like other dispersed sites in other industries, still use CCUS – providing that there is support to accelerate the required infrastructure beyond industrial clusters.
Decarbonising lime production will also require finding clean and readily available sources of energy for the high temperatures required to produce lime. Switching to electric heating just isn’t a practical option for the existing production equipment and processing that currently uses natural gas.
A Government-funded project completed in 2022 successfully demonstrated that hydrogen could be used as a replacement fuel for lime manufacturing, but the UK’s supply of green hydrogen is currently very limited, presenting a barrier to fuel switching. Waste-derived biomass also has potential in this area, but once again, supply is a problem.
The Government can facilitate the lime industry’s transition to net zero fuel by quickly and dramatically scaling up production and transportation of green hydrogen, and ensuring that energy-intensive industries like lime are prioritised when it comes to accessing the supply of green hydrogen and waste-derived biomass. This would involve providing support to hydrogen production to enable it to be economically viable to make the switch.
When access to hydrogen, along with decarbonised transport and electricity generation, are combined with the ability of lime products to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – a process known as carbonation – lime could achieve ‘net negative’ emissions within the next 15 years. This would assist the Government in achieving its target of net zero by 2050.
As the industry decarbonises, it needs to remain internationally competitive which will require support. If UK lime producers were to fully pass on the higher operating costs associated with decarbonisation, customers would switch to cheaper lime imported from countries with less ambitious green policies. In export markets, British manufacturers could lose market share to local lime producers. This is a process called ‘carbon leakage’, and it is a growing risk for many energy-intensive industries.
Therefore, while the UK lime sector faces higher energy and carbon costs than competitors elsewhere, policies are required to mitigate carbon leakage and ensure a competitive domestic UK lime sector.
This is why the industry, like many other energy-intensive industries, is calling for a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) to ensure imports pay the same carbon costs as UK producers. The EU is already planning to introduce a CBAM in 2026, and Britain should not allow itself to fall behind, while taking care to ensure that UK lime exports can also remain competitive in overseas markets
MPA Lime’s roadmap demonstrates that decarbonising lime is achievable, and something the industry is ready and willing to do. Now it requires the right Government support to ensure that lime can continue to underpin so much of our daily lives in the net zero economy of the future.
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