Among greenhouse gas polluters, cement makers are among the most profligate, accounting for some 5% of the world's emissions (more than aviation, which environmentally conscious fliers tend to be more aware of).
But, as The Economist points out, the world's largest cement manufacturers have taken strides, and vowed to take additional steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The problem is that there are few obvious ways to reduce emissions further, since cement makers have already improved efficiency markedly.
And the growth in demand for cement, according to the magazine, is outpacing the progress on reducing emissions. In other words, even though plants are producing less pollution per ton, so many more tons are being produced that overall emissions are increasing.
Two examples in New York demonstrate the thorniness of the issue. There, one plant that tried to burn waste tires to displace some of its coal a choice that would have reduced carbon dioxide emissions was denied the choice because other forms of air pollution would increase, and downwind communities wouldn't stand for it. Another plant tried to close an old plant and build a larger, more efficient plant, but again downwind communities fought and defeated the proposal. The market for cement, meanwhile, continued to grow in those areas.
In Europe, emissions from cement plants are more tightly regulated than in the United States, suggesting that there's room for improvement here. But the industry, and its neighbors, will have to get more creative if we are to continue making cement in a low-carbon world.
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