World Cement Magazine January 2024 - Looking to the future of cement

Cementir Group has been taking more incisive actions to progressively reduce CO2 emissions, optimising existing technologies and laying the foundations for potential innovations that will lead to the production of ‘net zero emissions’ cement. The company’s ambition is to progressively reduce the intensity of CO2 emissions until carbon neutrality is reached by 2050.

by Michele Di Marino & Stefano Zampaletta, Cementir Holding and Casper Mathiasen, Unicon A/S


“On this challenging path, together with other key actions like new production technologies, industrial operations and fuel and energy mix, reducing clinker ratio of cement portfolio represents one of the most relevant and valuable drivers to pursue. In our strategic view to progressively decarbonise the product portfolio towards low-carbon cements, FUTURECEM® is a steppingstone in achieving our sustainability targets”, states Chief Sales, Marketing & Commercial Development Officer at Cementir Holding, Michele Di Marino.

FUTURECEM® is the result of extensive applied research, which has been conducted over recent years at the Cementir Group Research and Quality Centre located in Aalborg. It covers the entire value chain: from raw material assessment, manufacturing technology, up to concrete technology.

The technology is a limestone and calcined clay technology that allows high clinker replacement in cement. Leveraging the synergies of the material combination, the technology results in a more sustainable and higher performing cement with up to 30% lower carbon footprint compared to ordinary Portland cement.

The low carbon benefits are also achieved while preserving strength and quality.

The technology is fully recognised as a solution for clinker ratio reduction in the roadmap for ‘Low-Carbon Transition in the Cement Industry’ by the International Energy Agency, and as ‘low clinker cements’ in ‘Cementing the European Green Deal.’1, 2 It is also formally recognised in the EU standard EN 197-5 for even further clinker substitution with II/C-M cements (up to 50%).

A milestone in the development of the technology was the Danish ‘Green Concrete II’ (Green Transformation of Cement and Concrete Production) project, which concluded in 2019. This project actively involved the entire value chain of construction and building materials, as well as universities and research institutes.
Cements and concrete recipes based on FUTURECEM® were developed and tested in full-scale constructions: infrastructure elements (two bridges) and an indoor floor and wall in the new concrete laboratory at the Danish Technological Institute.

Market roll-out
Since January 2021, FUTURECEM® has been available on the market in Denmark. It has been primarily targeted at use in the RMC segment. Customers within this segment use the special properties of FUTURECEM® to make concrete more stable against variations in consistency and easier to pump, which is usually a challenge with the rather cement-poor concrete used in Denmark.

Along with RMC, several Danish concrete precast producers are implementing FUTURECEM® in their production through a complete testing programme on site. The main difference perceived is the light-brown colour of the concrete, which is considered as a seal of quality and visible proof for builders to demonstrate the sustainable nature of their building.

FUTURECEM® has been used in RMC and concrete elements for the ambitious sustainable building UN17 Village in Ørestad, Copenhagen with more than 500 apartments. When completed in 2024, it will be known as the world’s first housing project integrating all 17 UN Global Goals in the same building.

Following the launch in Denmark, the roll-out is accelerating in the Cementir Group’s European market. CCB, the Cementir Group subsidiary in Belgium, commercialised FUTURECEM® in France in 2022, while the target for the Benelux in 2023. The scheduling is also linked to the need to address the complexity of different markets, habits and regulations, which could slow down and, sometimes, limit the opportunities of innovative low carbon cements, with the need of additional local certifications.

In collaboration with customers, FUTURECEM® has been tested and used in a wide range of applications from Ready Mix Concrete (RMC) to precast elements and mortars. It is also included in the research project ‘Blocs B40 for low carbon concrete’ lead by CERIB.
FUTURECEM® is a significant step on the way towards more sustainable cement production. This is important not only for Cementir Group, but also for the low-carbon transition of the concrete and construction industries in general.

Case study: Unicon
Denmark’s largest producer and supplier of ready-mix concrete, Unicon, which is part of Aalborg Portland Holding, a Danish subsidiary of Cementir Holding group, introduced FUTURECEM® based concretes to the Danish market in 2020. This was based on a collaborative development process with Aalborg Portland, but also the Danish Technological Institute, DTU Construct and others in the research and development project Green Concrete II, which ran from 2014 to 2019.

The final practical issues were tested and refined at Unicon’s Danish laboratories and plants before the company could send the first concrete trucks out on the roads in Denmark with carbon reduced concrete under the name of UNI-Green in the drums.

Unicon was the first producer of ready-mix concrete in Denmark to present a complete standard range of carbon reduced concretes when UNI-Green was further rolled out in early 2021. The UNI-Green concrete types from Unicon have up to 25% lower carbon footprint compared to the Danish industry average.

“It is not often that we make such big changes to our concrete, which only made it even bigger to have to present a new concrete with such a significant carbon reduction, which FUTURECEM® contribute to. It also made it a particularly exciting task for our technical department to adopt a new cement type that today already makes a big difference for our entire industry”, says Casper Mathiasen, Managing Director of Unicon.

With the carbon reduction of 25%, the FUTURECEM®-based UNI-Green concrete is one of the biggest breakthroughs in the market for ready-mix concrete in both Denmark and the rest of the world.

Unicon is known for supplying concrete for demanding and complex projects that require quality and high-strength concretes. The same high strength is also achieved in Unicon’s carbon reduced concretes despite the relatively lower clinker content in the cement, which is replaced by calcined clay and limestone filler. By using FUTURECEM®, Unicon can therefore produce carbon reduced concrete with a similar compressive strength, and the price is the same as the conventional concretes in the product range.

“It is crucial for us that we always live up to customer expectations and deliver the high quality that we are known for in the Danish construction industry. By embedding FUTURECEM® in our concrete mixes, we can deliver concrete that is both easy to work with and has high quality. There are just a few processes that are slightly different, but basically the product is the same and with a significantly lower carbon footprint and impact on the climate. It is therefore a unique product we can offer our customers”, adds Casper Mathiasen.

The new carbon reduced concretes drew significant interest in connection with the launch of the UNI-Green standard range in 2021. Despite the industry being known for its caution around new products, especially with concrete, contractors and developers over time realised that the carbon reduced concrete has the same good properties as traditional concrete types.

Therefore, Unicon restructured its production in 2022 so that all concrete types in environmental impact Passive and Moderate are now produced as UNI-Green, replacing the traditional Rapid cement with FUTURECEM®.

Unicon produces more than 1 million m3 of concrete annually from its 33 plants throughout Denmark. Today the carbon reduced concrete based on FUTURECEM® accounts for approximately 40% of all the concrete that Unicon delivers from its plants.

Looking ahead
However, the development of concretes with a lower environmental impact does not stop implementation of FUTURECEM® at Unicon. Cementir’s Danish laboratory is continuously trying to push the boundaries of more climate-friendly concrete types. Among other things, this has led to the development of an ‘ultra-low carbon concrete’, which is based exclusively on aggregates from crushed recycled concrete, collected rainwater and process water, fly ash and FUTURECEM®.

The new ultra-low carbon concrete has a carbon footprint of 80 kg/m3, while a comparable conventional concrete has a footprint of 170 kg/m3 of concrete. The potential of the new ultra-low carbon concrete and its applications are manifold but is for the time being limited to projects outside the Danish standards due to longer curing times.

Despite this, the project underlines that the potential of using technologies such as FUTURECEM® is significant, and the carbon reduced cement can thus, in combination with several different initiatives, ensure even greater reductions in construction.

1.    ‘Technology Roadmap - Low-Carbon Transition in the Cement Industry
2.    ‘Cementing the European Green Deal