October 22, 2010
Column | Korky Koroluk
Atlanta-based company develops greener cement
Nanotechnology is coming to the cement industry. An American start-up company based in Atlanta has developed a nano-scaled form of cement that it claims will slash the cost of manufacturing cement by about a third, and carbon dioxide emissions by about 30 per cent.
And if that’s not enough, the new cement might be used, some scientists have said, to create concretes that develop strength faster, at least in part because of the nano-scale size of the cement particles.
If all this seems too good to be true, well, maybe it is. But the promise of nanotechnology is proving itself in so many ways, I wouldn’t bet more than the price of a coffee against it.
The company making the claims is Sriya Green Materials Inc., and its CEO, Srinivas Kilambi, says the technology “will produce cement, using the same raw materials used today, in about 40 seconds, as opposed to 40 minutes. It will take about half the energy.”
Cement has got a bad name among environmentalists. Its manufacture is responsible for five to eight per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and cement use is growing. Worldwide production now is somewhere around 3.5 billion tonnes annually. By 2030 that figure is expected to be around 5 billion tonnes, with India and China leading the growth.
Making one tonne of cement emits more than 700 kg of carbon dioxide when conventional methods are used. These involve firing the raw materials in a kiln at 1,300° to 1,400° C for 45 minutes or so. Kilambi says his process involves heating to just 260° C for just a few seconds, resulting in the lower emissions that he claims.
The particles in conventional Portland cement are fine enough to be measured in microns—a millionth of a metre. The particles in Kilambi’s process are a thousand times finer—measured in nanometres. And test work done at Clarkson University, in Potsdam, N.Y., indicate that concretes using the new cement have faster setting times.
The new cement has been proven in small quantities in the laboratory, conditions that are a world apart from the rigours of performing in the field. And scaling up will have to be done in incremental steps. Besides that, the company must still demonstrate the long-term performance of the cement and the ability to market it successfully.
Sriya plans to build a pilot plant to commercialize the technology in the Atlanta area next year. Then, in 2013, it plans to break ground on a commercial-sized plant of up to 200,000 square feet. It would produce a million tonnes of green cement annually.
The plant is likely to be somewhere not far from Atlanta, partly because of an abundance of biomass for fuelling its kilns in the area, and a plentiful supply of limestone, the raw material for cement.
The American cement industry is awaiting final rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, rules which will reduce emissions of mercury, particulate matter and other harmful pollutants from the manufacture of conventional Portland cement.
When fully implemented in 2013, the EPA estimates that annual emissions of mercury will be reduced by 92 per cent, sulphur dioxide emissions by 78 per cent, and total hydrocarbons by 83 per cent. The American industry has said it will have to invest between $6 billion and $10 billion annually to comply with the new regulations.
So if Sriya’s technology proves itself, it will have a big jump on regulatory compliance—even including the reduction in mercury emissions.
The company says it’s process can trap the mercury in the cement instead of emitting it into the environment.
At this stage, the company, understandably, is saying nothing about the details of its process. But if everything can be made to work as planned, imitators won’t be far behind.
Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to email@example.com
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