In this interview, Murielle Goubard, the Global Sector Manager for Building Materials at Malvern Panalytical, talks to AzoMaterials about sustainable challenges in the cement industry.
My main job is to help our customers solve their main concerns, as well as the new and future challenges facing their industry. Among construction materials, cement is one of the most important, both in its own right and as a constituent of concrete. So my role is to identify effective analytical solutions to key issues such as decarbonisation of cement production, recycling of raw materials, control of energy consumption, as well as process digitization, a key success factor in all these areas. And all this while maintaining or even improving the final properties of cement and concrete!
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This implies having the opportunity to exchange ideas with specialists in the field and to integrate local specificities, both regulatory and with regard to, for example, the resources in terms of materials available to the plants. Finally, and this is a very exciting part, my role also involves coupling my analytical knowledge with that of cement manufacturing to imagine and develop new solutions that are ever more optimal in terms of efficiency, robustness, predictive approaches and cost control.
For over 40 years, cement manufacturers have been working to reduce their environmental impact, particularly their CO2 emissions.
To achieve this, several actions have been taken:
The circularity has also been a point of attention, leading, for instance, to recycling concrete fines to produce cement.
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Finally, big plants with multi-production lines have been developed, with highly automated processes and digital-driven monitoring.
Part of the solution to help with this transition is to capture the CO2 emissions using the CCUS (Carbon Capture and Utilisation and Storage) technologies, applied to both the combustion and process emissions or combining a zero-CO2 heat source with the capture of concentrated process emissions.
Several different breakthrough technologies are currently being investigated:
Finally, other innovative solutions are to be studied and developed, such as optimizing the design of structures the concrete specifications, designing infrastructure to allow for disassembly and reuse/recycling of concrete, or substituting concrete with zero-CO2 materials such as wood, using graphene fibers instead of steel for reinforced concrete, 3D printing.
Environmental concerns are clearly the main reasons for this disruptive transition. Cement is the binding agent of concrete, the world's most widely used construction material. The cement sector is a significant greenhouse gas emitter, responsible for about 7% of CO2 emissions globally.
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In the more advanced cement-making dry process, raw ingredients are calcinated at around 900-1250oC in a pre-calciner to transform limestone into lime, which releases CO2 as a side product. The materials are then fed into a rotary kiln, where they aggregate to form clinker at 1450°C (and flame temperatures reach 2000°C). The clinker is then cooled, ground, and blended with other materials to make cement. The combustion of fuels to heat cement kilns is responsible for 35% of clinker’s carbon footprint. The other 65% are process emissions released during the calcination reaction involved in clinker production.
Regulations depend on the country/territory. Currents norms are based on the composition of cement/concrete, like in Europe, for instance, the EN-197-1 for blended Portland cements, recently updated with the EN-197-5 to include the new multi-component cements such as LC3 (CEM II/C-M and CEM VI too). And a project for a complementary new norm EN-197-VI is ongoing.
These regulations sometimes limit the development and use of new low-CO2 cement. Therefore, a study is being carried out on the benefits of moving from standards based on chemical composition to standards based on cement performance.
Malvern Panalytical has always been deeply involved in cement development, first for quality control for the chemical composition of the cement with its famous X-Ray Fluorescence spectrometers, the first analytical technic widely used in cement plants. Its laser diffraction analyzers also have widely controlled parallel particle size distribution. Recently X-Ray Diffractometers appeared to be critical to monitor the kiln to produce the optimal clinker. In the last five years, this technic has been widely deployed too.
Finally, with plant 4.0, we now see our real-time analysers for chemical analyses (Cross-belt PFTNA ) or particle size distribution (online/at-line laser diffraction) being more and more used to control for instance, for the first one, the composition kiln feed and the second one the cement particles sizes distribution.
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On top of the classical challenges to keep the production working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, cement production having suitable properties, no customers claims.
New challenges are linked to the new “green cement”:
The cement industry constantly needs to reduce laboratory analysis costs while optimizing the analytical process's quality and reliability. On top of this, every phase of the construction process is now examined in terms of sustainability. Cement is one part of the total LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) of construction; this means its production has to be as green as possible, which can be achieved with advanced laboratory automation, digitalization of operating and process control. Complete sample preparation, analysis processes, and sample transportation to and within the laboratory can be mechanized and computerized within an automated laboratory.
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Results can be merged, validated, and distributed without human intervention. This leads to higher repeatability, smaller tolerances, and lower costs for the required analyses while achieving more performant targets: more ambitious KPIs can then be targeted, such as those for low CO2 footprint based, for instance, on low clinker cement or use of alternative fuels to heat the kiln, those for savings of electricity when grinding the cement based on the Particle Size Distribution, or those to preserve resources using recycling materials based on chemical composition analyses. All these numerous automated analyses make it possible to reduce the relative uncertainty of the results and thus define narrower acceptance limits around the fundamental target values.
Let’s now dive into the leading automated solutions that can be used as sensors for KPIs to enhance the operational efficiency of a cement plant:
Cement QC auto labs use X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) systems like the Malvern Panalytical Zetium to determine major and minor oxides in clinker, cement, and raw materials such as limestone, sand, and bauxite. For fast and accurate results of this wide range of products with high variability of chemical composition, samples can be prepared as fused beads using the Automated Claisse Eagon2 and the synthetic CRMs of the WROXI base and cement extension.
Combining X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) and X-Ray Diffraction (XRD) systems like the Malvern Panalytical Zetium and the Aeris-Cement accomplish chemical and mineralogical phase analyses for more complete sample characterization. On top of oxides chemical compositions defined by XRF, the cement quality is monitored based on classical quantifications such as quartz in raw meal, free lime (CaO) and clinker phases, and calcite (CaCO3) in cement. This combination allows managing the use and suit mixtures of alternative fuels (AF) or alternative raw materials (ARM) via the complete analysis of clinker to avoid negative effects on reactivity. It also allows to reduce the fuel consumption by automated monitoring of the clinker constituents. It also allows strict monitoring of the cement quality control, with representative, accurate, reliable, and fast automated analyses of sulfates (dehydration during grinding has a strong impact on cement properties) and composition of blended cement, including quantification of ‘low CO2’ additives, such as slag, fly ash or calcined clays).
Zetium and Aeris-Cement can be integrated into extensive automation or considered a single unit when installed as a Twin. In that latter case, dedicated software monitors both instruments allowing results from both techniques to be combined for better exploitation.
On top of these automated solutions, two real-time instruments are used to get a constant eye on the process:
Both provide a lot of data for:
The Malvern Panalytical Cross Belt Analyzers CNA Pentos “ is based on pulsed fast and thermal neutron activation (PFTNA) technology and is installed directly on the conveyor belt to measure the entire material stream continuously and in real-time to troubleshoot issues in pre-blending stockpile control and quarry management, raw mix proportioning control, and material sorting.
As the Zetium (XRF) and the Aeris Cement (XRD) provide together more complete and accurate information on the material analyzed, the Zetium (XRF) can also be combined in an interactive loop with the CNA Pentos (PFTNA) to give access to fast and massive real-time data with improved accuracy, using the O’Blend software for instance.
Adding a CNA and appropriate mix control software can significantly reduce the stdev Lime Saturation Factor of the kiln feed and often achieve a standard deviation approaching 1%.
This typically results in savings in three key areas:
As an example, let’s consider the CNA impact on the LSF. The STDEV at a well-designed, well-running plant should approach 1%.
A modest improvement in the kiln feed stability (STDEV LSF from 5% to 2%) would drive the benefits described below. The less stable the starting kiln feed is, the more dramatic the benefits will be.
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On top of chemical and mineralogical compositions, other key parameters to manufacture performant cement are the particle size (fineness) and the particle size distribution PSD (now replacing the Blaine approach). This is because they directly influence physical and mechanical properties such as setting time (rate of hydration), rheology, and final developed strength. Every fraction of the particle size distribution plays a role in determining cement performance; this is why it is so important to monitor the PSD with real-time analysis :
When integrated with an automated lab, the Malvern Panalytical Insitec cement Labsizer (Laser Diffraction LD) delivers large sample volume cement measurements and can work reliably in a process environment (dusty, noisy, vibrating, etc.).
The Malvern Panalytical online Insitec (Laser Diffraction) provides real-time measurements to monitor the last grinding steps continuously. Its accurate and massive data optimizes the finish mill performance, increases the plant throughput, and simultaneously enables significant savings in specific energy. The Malvern Link II software manages the automatic closed-loop control to react in real-time to production fluctuations, enabling optimization of the grinding process and reduction in variability.
The Malvern Panalytical great experience allows us to share that cement production increase can be around 5-8%, and the energy decrease from 4 to 8% when the standard deviation is reduced by 20-40% (production more stable).
In conclusion, the recent sustainable challenges of the cement industry make the plant of tomorrow smart and ”Industry 4.0” based. Technologies such as the industrial Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and cyber-physical systems will interact seamlessly, communicating and adjusting continuously.
This requires collecting a lot of accurate data using the right ‘sensors’ in an automated environment, such as the chemical compositions (XRF, PFTNA), mineralogy (XRD), and particles size (Laser diffraction), with the right sampling (Fusion Machine for XRF). Malvern Panalytical, with its huge experience, is the only supplier to provide all these automated sensors, which allows us to get the utmost of these combined results to enhance your process efficiency while producing the cement that fits your customer's requirements, including the cement (or concrete) properties and the Life cycle assessment of the product aligned with the recent sustainable targets.
Murielle Goubard, the Global Sector Manager for Building Materials with Malvern Panalytical, focuses on the business development of analytical solutions applied to cement, concrete, glass, and asphalt materials. She obtained her Ph.D. in Materials Science at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France, then furthered her materials research at Solvay for 15 years. She joined Malvern Panalytical 17 years ago, developing her knowledge of building materials as general manager of Malvern Panalytical France with many collaborations with international cement companies.
Malvern Panalytical technologies are used by scientists and engineers in a wide range of industries and organizations to solve the challenges associated with maximizing productivity, developing better quality products and getting them to market faster. Our mission is to create superior, customer-focused solutions and services to deliver tangible economic impact through chemical, physical and structural analysis of materials.
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