Putting cement on the path to net zero

Hanson UK is planning to develop the UK’s first cement CCS scheme at its Padeswood works in north Wales.

Carbon capture and storage has a key role to play in achieving net zero infrastructure and construction, says Hanson UK’s Iain Walpole.

Following the recent release of the government’s energy security strategy, there has been widespread discussion about which type of low carbon energy generation will be prioritised. However, the objectives are clear - to make the UK far more self-sufficient in energy and to accelerate the UK’s progress towards 2050 net zero targets.

When you add the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which emphasised the urgent need to decarbonise power production, to speed up carbon capture from industry and to potentially begin extraction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it is clear that we will see many new net zero projects coming forward.

Cement is essential to the development of green energy projects and the UK’s overall transition to net zero. It is fundamental to the development of everything from new offshore wind farms to nuclear power stations, to clean transport infrastructure and it underpins the thousands of green jobs that these projects will create. 

No viable alternative to concrete in construction

The production of cement is currently the most carbon intensive part of concrete. A large proportion of the carbon emissions come from the chemical processes involved in making cement and cannot be addressed by using low or zero carbon energy. Similarly, there is no viable alternative to concrete in the construction industry.  

The only way to produce the cement that the UK needs, in order to deliver large scale net zero infrastructure, without significant amounts of carbon emissions, is to use carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Hanson UK is at the forefront of this transition, as we are planning to develop the UK’s first cement CCS scheme at our Padeswood works in north Wales. We are at the early stage of our development process, but our parent company HeidelbergCement is prepared to invest £400m to construct carbon capture and compression equipment, a combined heat and power plant to operate the capture plant, along with a pipeline to link up with the HyNet CCS network.

Although this would be the first project in the UK, HeidelbergCement is a global leader in the race to decarbonise cement. The world’s first full-scale cement CCS project is being built at our Brevik site in Norway and others are under consideration in Germany and Canada.

The direct benefits of Padeswood CCS would be substantial, as it has the potential to capture 800,000 tonnes of carbon every year, equating to 24 million tonnes over the 30-year lifespan of the plant. It will also protect the 222 direct and indirect jobs that rely on Padeswood, while creating 54 new operational jobs and up to 350 during the construction phase.

Supporting construction's transition to a net zero future

But more importantly, this project will act as an exemplar for sustainable cement production across the country and also support the transition of the construction industry to a net zero future, ultimately helping the UK meet its net zero targets. 

The UK’s cement industry employs in excess of 2,500 people across the UK and thousands more in the supply chain. Having a proven route to net zero will be critical in being able to establish a viable long-term approach for the industry as it strives to become net zero by 2050. 

This is a far greater challenge for cement than other sectors because we cannot rely on electrification, or hydrogen, alone to eliminate carbon emissions. Carbon capture is the sustainable long-term solution and Padeswood is the ideal project because it is close to an established CCS cluster, which is already developing a pipeline to connect to permanent CO2 storage  under the Irish sea.

Cement will remain critical to low carbon energy and climate change mitigation projects for decades, possibly indefinitely. As long as we need to build nuclear power stations, floating offshore wind farms or flood defences, we will need cement, and having a supply of net zero material will substantially reduce the whole-life carbon impacts of these projects. 

The Padeswood CCS project has the potential to be genuinely game changing for us as a company, and the cement industry as a whole. But above that, it can support the development of the critical infrastructure that will put the UK on the path to a net zero future.  

Iain Walpole is head of process and sustainability, carbon capture utilisation and storage, at Hanson UK.