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Cement Goes Green

Lafarge’s Bath plant experiments with biomass to reduce its carbon footprint.


September 25, 2013
By Andrew Macklin


Topics

The introduction of stricter emissions standards for commercial Canada
has been widely speculated for years, and has transitioned from
possibility to inevitability.

The introduction of stricter emissions standards for commercial Canada has been widely speculated for years, and has transitioned from possibility to inevitability.

LafargeMainPhoto 
  

Recognizing what the industry is about to face, Lafarge’s North American operations are taking a proactive approach to finding a solution to reduce carbon emissions. By using knowledge of energy solutions from throughout the company’s global operations and adding partnerships with companies across the region, the Bath, Ont., plant of Lafarge Canada is working on a solution that can be universally adopted by all of its production facilities.

Located along Lake Ontario approximately 250 kilometres ENE of Toronto, Lafarge’s Bath plant is built next to a large limestone quarry, which supplies 90 per cent of the materials needed for sustainable production. The site has been active since 1972, and currently produces close to 1.1 million tonnes of cement each year with a workforce just shy of 100 employees. The quarry, which sits on the north end of the property, has the capacity to supply the cement plant with limestone for an estimated 300 to 400 years at Lafarge’s current rate of production. 

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Presently the site burns a combination of coke and coal fuel, which is imported from Virginia, plus natural gas. Approximately 80 per cent of the cement produced is shipped via boat thanks to its dock on Lake Ontario, right across Highway 33 from the plant. The cement shipped by boat supplies the Greater Toronto Area, where Lafarge’s largest customer base is located, as well as customers south in to Cincinnati, Ohio and New York. The remaining 20 per cent is shipped by rail and truck, the bulk of which supplies customers in the inland parts of northern and central Ontario and to customers in Saskatchewan.

A corporate commitment
Even before Canada started rumbling about the introduction of new emissions standards, Lafarge’s global operations were looking at ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

Lafarge 
The flame temperature inside the kiln will be 2,000 C when the 10 per cent LCF biomass fuelstock is introduced.


 

“Lafarge has had environmental sustainability as a priority for many years,” says Richard Sebastianelli, plant manager of the Bath operation. “The target has been for Lafarge to reduce CO2 emissions, and there have been projects done in many Lafarge cement plants. We’ve started this focus on LCF (low carbon fuels) in the last four years.”

With its base of operations in Paris, France, Lafarge has already seen the impact of using low carbon fuels as a result of the use of biofuels in most European markets. That research, development and usage has provided a knowledge base for Lafarge’s North American operations to begin exploring LCF solutions for plants like the one in Bath.

But rather than just rely on the information already available within the company, the Bath operation has sought the opinion and expertise of community members to help form the framework to find the best LCF solution for the plant.

“What is innovative and different about what we’ve done here is that, rather than just sit around and figure out a solution internally, we actually opened up our boardroom to the public,” says Robert Cumming, environmental and public affairs manager for the Bath plant. “We’ve had people from Queen’s University, Pollution Probe, WWF Canada and the local community sit down with us to discuss what we can do together.”

One of the primary solutions desired by Lafarge was being able to identify local feedstocks that can be used as low carbon fuel. Importing fuel to run the cement plant has always been an issue for Lafarge with few to no local resources available.

“We’re importing fossil fuels into Ontario, in our case, from Virginia,” says Cumming. “We just don’t have the resources in Ontario.”

There are, however, LCF resources available in Ontario. Finding those local sources provides both an environmental and economic benefit for Lafarge, and the entire cement industry in Canada.

“The hundreds of millions of dollars our industry is spending on importing coal and coke we could be spending locally instead,” explains Cumming. “So there’s a big economic benefit. We’re making use of materials that would go to the landfill, rot, and create methane. Plus, we’re leaving coal in the ground. So actually, it’s a double benefit.”

After working with a committee of community stakeholders, a few items were quickly established. First, the committee recognized the need to go through a process of determining the best LCF for Lafarge rather than jumping to an unproven conclusion. Each of the possible fuels would be evaluated based on three questions: is it economical, is it environmentally sound and is it socially responsible? By using those criteria, Lafarge would provide a solution that made sense for all stakeholders involved in the process.

Refining the targets
The next step was to establish the targets for the LCF testing phase and permanent implementation of the project. Based on those percentages, Lafarge could construct a timeline for both phases of the project, have an accurate read on the volume of the low carbon fuel the company would need in order to be sustainable year over year, and determine the cost of the LCF for the bottom line.

For the testing phase of the project, Lafarge was granted environmental compliance to co-fire 10 per cent LCF, but the overall target would be much bigger.

“We’re permitted to co-fire 10 per cent at the moment, but our target is to be at 30 per cent,” says Sebastianelli. “This is where it makes the most sense to be using this type of technology. In North America, there are some plants that use around 35 per cent LCF, but we want to meet our target of 30 per cent.”

Lafarge sent out a request for information, looking for a biomass solution that met three criteria. They received 15-20 requests for information, which were then taken to the committee for analysis. To evaluate the requests, the committee developed a Greener Fuel Protocol. Each fuel selected for further testing will be passed through this protocol to help determine its viability as an LCF for the plant.

Ready for testing
The results of the request for information process have been the selection of Lafarge’s first mix that will be tested at the plant. The first blend to be tested will be a mix of grinded railroad ties, along with wood and asphalt shingles from construction waste.

Lafarge4 
With extra land available at the front of the property, Lafarge has the necessary room to house the infrastructure needed for the biomass operation.


 

Scott Environmental Group, based out of nearby Kingston, Ont., has been hired to handle the construction waste. The company will have to add infrastructure in order to both handle the waste and meet the 3/8” minus dry fuel spec needed by Lafarge. As for the railroad ties, those will be handled by a local Metis-run family business, Rail Link Inc., who will be grinding and crushing those materials on the Lafarge site.

Lafarge is building a new receiving area, which will include moving floors that will allow workers to remove the materials from the trucks. The materials are then stored in large bins before being fed up to the burner floor. At that point, the materials will be mixed together to meet the desired specifications, then metered through a rotary air lock and way feeder where they will be blown directly into the kiln. The flame temperature in the kiln will be 2000 C. The environmental compliance approval given to Lafarge will allow them to burn 75 tons of LCF per day during the three-year testing period.

The target is to make the fuel replacement without any interruption to cement production at the Bath plant.

“We don’t want to jump into this and immediately start having issues,” says Sebastianelli. “We want to gradually increase the rate as people get comfortable with the equipment and get acquainted with how everything has to operate.”

The introduction of the 10 per cent LCF mix will create a 10 per cent CO2 reduction from fuel combustion, according to estimates made while researching the mix. There is expected to be a nitrous oxide reduction as well, but that number has not yet been determined. However, thanks to a partnership with Queen’s University, Lafarge will have access to unprecedented data from the trial burn. Queen’s will be performing before and after emissions testing, quality assessment and life-cycle assessment, which will compare the environmental cost of coal coming out of the ground in Virginia and being shipped to Lafarge versus the cost of construction waste coming out of a house and asphalt shingles coming off a roof.

“We expect those results to help form government policy in Ontario,” says Cumming. “This is why the government supported this initiative by providing $2.68 million for the project.”

With the first test expected to begin in October, Lafarge estimates that the first set of data will be completed by Queen’s four to five months later. Should the current mix meet Lafarge’s expectations, the company would then apply for a permanent environmental compliance application. The earliest possible permanent approval could then be awarded as early as the fall of 2014.