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Cement production: An untapped waste management solution

Every year, 2.5 billion tonnes of waste are generated across the European Union.  This waste is managed in a variety of ways, including recycling, landfilling and energy recovery (also referred to as ‘waste-to-energy’). Just over half of the waste generate is recycled, 13% is used for energy recovery but still 35% is disposed of, mostly in landfills.

Energy can be recovered from waste either in a waste-to-energy incinerator or in the production of cement.  The report by Ecofys has clarified the role cement plants across the European Union can play and how they can be part of European and national waste management policies. In the production of cement, the cement industry uses millions of tonnes of waste as alternative fuel and alternative raw material. What the cement industry does is replace part of the fuels which is traditionally used to fire its kilns (such as coal and petcoke) with fuels derived from waste (such as used tyres). This process has the added value of not generating any additional waste, as the ash left over from the fuels combusted is the recycled back in the process as a raw material. This processing of waste while producing cement is commonly referred to as co-processing.

Waste accounts for almost 40% of the fuels used in cement production across Europe, although this figure varies from one Member Sate to another. The Ecofys study has focused on three countries to illustrate progressive stages of waste market development, namely Greece, Poland and Germany.  It clearly shows that, as Member States improve the way in which waste follows the higher ranks of the waste hierarchy and reduce their dependency on landfills, waste-to-energy options will increasingly play a role for residual waste. This is where the cement industry comes in.

Today, the cement industry has the technical potential to replace 60% of its fuels with waste and, in the future, this percentage can rise to 95%. Taking into account the amount of waste which is generated in the EU each year, the good use put to this growing amount of waste by the cement industry is a unique opportunity for waste management.

Rather than focusing solely on building new waste to energy incinerators to deal with this waste, Member States should look into the energy recovery which already exists in their country. By using its existing installations for the intake of waste, the cement industry does not only offer a solution for waste which cannot be either reused or recycled, it also avoids the need for Member States to invest in additional capacity. Based on the analysis by Ecofys, Member States could, already now, save between €9-16 billion by utilising existing capacity in the cement industry, an amount that corresponds to investment required for the construction of new waste-to-energy incinerators.

This report, commissioned by CEMBUREAU, has been developed in order to provide information to the European Commission on how the European cement industry can contribute to Europe’s waste to energy capacity.  To do this, the authors have looked into the amount of waste which is currently used as a fuel to produce cement, as well as what potential there is to increase this volume.

More information: Report