Cement Industry Solar Update

By Mark S. Kuhar

Close-up of Synhelion’s receiver. Photo: Synhelion

Cemex and Synhelion report prospective scaling of a high-temperature process to industrially-viable levels, where solar energy supplants fossil fuel combustion. This marks a significant milestone in the companies’ journey toward the world’s first fully solar-powered cement plant.

An early 2022 energy lab demonstration in Spain saw researchers leverage Synhelion devices and fuel conversion methods to successfully produce clinker solely from solar power. Advancing from that stage to production under plant-like and continuous conditions reaffirms the tremendous potential of this technology to reach industrial-scale implementation. 

Cemex and Synhelion will now take further steps toward building a solar-driven industrial-scale pilot cement plant. 

“I am convinced we are getting closer to the technologies that will enable net-zero CO₂ cement and concrete production,” said Fernando A. González, CEO of Cemex. “The solid progress I see here proves that solar cement is not just a dream; it is achievable through continued collaboration and backed up by rigorous research and testing.”

“Our technology can make an important contribution toward decarbonizing cement production, and we look forward to more trailblazing achievements in this field,” added Gianluca Ambrosetti, co-CEO and co-founder of Synhelion.

Replacing fossil fuels with solar energy-derived alternatives would catapult Cemex efforts to achieve carbon neutrality across its cement, aggregate and concrete operations. The technology and processes Cemex and Synhelion are refining creates the conditions to separate, and therefore capture, the remaining calcination phase CO2 in concentrated form without additional efforts.

The project is part of Cemex’s Future in Action program, which focuses on achieving sustainable excellence through climate action, circularity, and natural resource management with the primary objective of becoming a net-zero CO₂ company by 2050. 

That’s not the only solar news in the cement industry. 

Holcim US is installing a 25-MW solar array at its cement plant in Alpena, Mich., which will help the facility self-generate 75% of its electric power needs with green energy.

“The solar project on 100 acres of Holcim’s Alpena property is another powerful example of the investment we are willing to make to address sustainability with urgency,” said Atl Martinez, vice president, procurement at Holcim. “With new initiatives launching across the U.S., Holcim’s momentum to transform our operations, lower our carbon footprint and reach net-zero has never been greater.”

NorthStar Clean Energy will implement the solar solution, which is anticipated to reduce the plant’s CO2 emissions by 25,000 tons annually and produce more than 30% of its current energy demand. Holcim is expected to receive 35,000 MWh of clean power from the project per year under a Solar Equipment Service Contract with a minimum term of 20 years.

Construction of the system will begin this year with commercial operations expected to begin in late 2024.

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