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Colorado cement plant to employ carbon-capture technology

Posted at 1:34 PM, Oct 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-25 15:34:36-04

DENVER (AP) — The owner of a cement plant in Florence has started design and engineering work with the goal of making it the first such U.S. facility to use carbon-capture technology on a commercial scale.

LafargeHolcim, a global building materials supplier, has received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to research and develop a system to capture and sequester the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions. The Swiss-based company is partnering with Svante Inc., a provider of carbon-capture technology, and other firms.

Jamie Gentoso, the CEO of U.S. Cement at LafargeHolcim, said the company worked with Svante to build a pilot carbon-capture unit at a plant in British Columbia.

“We started this initiative in November of last year,” Gentoso said. “The DOE grant allows us to continue the engineering on it. The hope is that we would be shovel-ready to go in 2023 and up and running at some point in 2024.”

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said he sent a letter to the DOE in support of the project. The Colorado Democrat introduced a bill in 2019 with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, to make it easier for businesses to use private bonds to finance carbon-capture technology.

Climate change is an urgent crisis and Colorado is seeing the consequences with drought and extreme wildfires, Bennet said in a statement. “That’s why I supported federal grant funding for the next phase of this first-of-a-kind project to advance carbon capture technology that can help us avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

The cement sector is the world’s third-largest industrial energy consumer and is the second-largest industrial emitter of carbon dioxide, accounting for 7% of the global emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. As the world population and urbanization grow, the agency said cement production is expected to increase anywhere from 12% to 23% by 2050.

“In the U.S., the cement industry is only responsible for 1% to 2% of the carbon dioxide emissions. That said, we still have a carbon dioxide issue,” Gentoso said.

To make cement, limestone is heated to about 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit to free the lime, which releases the carbon dioxide. At the Florence plant, which employs 125 people, LafargeHolcim uses old tires as a fuel source, replacing coal, and solar energy. The company makes a blended product that contains lower-carbon, raw material such as fly ash.

Gentoso said companies in Colorado have been more inclined to use the blended product than companies in other regions. But that’s not why LafargeHolcim has picked Colorado for the carbon-capture project.

“One of the main reasons we chose this plant specifically is from a carbon-capture perspective, you have to capture it and you have to find a place for it,” Gentoso said.

There are more options to do that in Colorado. Carbon dioxide is used to boost oil well production by injecting it underground, which increases pressure.

“There are pipelines within 40 miles of our plant where people are actually mining carbon dioxide out of the ground for enhanced oil recovery,” Gentoso said.

And there are geologic formations where the gas can be stored. Carbon-capture technology might be able to prevent the release of more than 700,000 tons of carbon a year from the plant.