India’s Cement Companies are at the Forefront of Climate Action

Neeraj Akhoury, CEO Holcim India & Managing Director and CEO of Ambuja Cements

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green cement

India ranks among nations that are most vulnerable to climate change. Which is why innovating towards sustainability is imperative. It can leverage on technology and R&D to develop “green” solutions. Thankfully, the industry is taking note and actively pursuing a host of measures to reduce its carbon footprint. Take, for instance, cement manufacturers.

Solutions comprise improving energy efficiency of cement units, substitution of clinker with fly ash or deploying fuels with lower emissions. Others include deploying waste heat recovery systems, diverting waste like used plastic from landfills as either raw input or fuel. Plants are being retro-fitted to be able to utilise cleaner fuels, thereby reducing emissions. These are under implementation in various stages at cement plants in India. Companies also claim to have developed clinker-free cement, which reduces emissions by up to 80-90%.

Other developments that cement industry is watching include the carbon capturing and sequestration technology, where emissions from cement kilns could be captured and stored in various forms—be it in a cylinder or even concrete blocks! Carbon dioxide when added to cement blocks at the manufacturing stage can improve their strength and durability. Savings that can be accrued through this technology is phenomenal, not to mention the reduced demand for natural resources.

Look around, and you will see that every industry is making similar efforts. The automobile industry recently made a tectonic shift to BS-VI emissions standards. Battery-powered cars, bikes and auto-rickshaws are yet to dominate the Indian market, but we’re already looking forward to newer technologies like hydrogen fuel cell. And that’s a mind-boggling change for a country that was using leaded petrol and diesel whose noxious fumes clouded our skylines barely a couple of decades ago! The war against plastic has acquired a new dimension with retailers offering either cloth bags or those that appear like plastic but are biodegradable in nature.

After all, it’s also in the industry’s best interests if it adopts the circular economy of functioning—where emphasis is laid on recycling or repurposing every single product.

Bold Targets

As India sets itself the target of achieving net zero by 2070, Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined a five-pronged approach named “Panchamrit” at last year’s COP-26 Glasgow summit. Accordingly, India will  take its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030; meet nearly50% of its energy requirements from renewable sources by 2030; reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes from now till 2030; and slash the carbon intensity of its economy by more than 45%. We can arrive there faster if the industry acts in concert with the government’s objectives.

India’s problem is unique in that it must not only generate millions of skilled and semi-skilled jobs year after year that would lift masses out of abject poverty but also do so in a clean and sustainable manner. This was a question that the world’s developed economies didn’t have to face in their route to prosperity—their industrial revolutions involved burning coal and other dirtier fuels without having to bother about limits or a timeline. Their transition to cleaner technologies of the future is easier amid higher incomes and an improved quality of life.

What It Entails

The shift towards newer technologies will come at a cost. Existing plants will have to be repurposed or built all over to meet the needs and regulations of the future. This will involve pouring in hundreds of thousands of crores into the technologies that will have to gain acceptance by the industry and then the end consumer. Chances are, the products thus produced would be priced at a premium, and unit economics may take time to kick in. Yet, industries must persist collectively.

There are other challenges like ensuring that the entire ecosystem, too, adopts best practices. From the downstream supplier, to stockist or dealer, every link in the chain must be apprised of the new product and possible changes in their handling. They must be educated or retooled with newer technologies.

Is this difficult? Perhaps. But there can be no doubt on its necessity. After all we owe it to our future generations to leave a greener planet.

About the author

neeraj-akhoury

Mr. Neeraj Akhoury brings with him over 28 years of rich experience in the steel and cement industries. He has worked in leadership roles in India and other emerging markets. He began his career with Tata Steel in 1993 and joined the Holcim Group in 1999.

Mr. Akhoury was appointed as Managing Director & CEO of ACC Limited in February 2017. In February 2020, he took over as CEO India, Holcim, Managing Director & CEO, Ambuja Cements Limited and Non-Executive Director, ACC Limited.

He is on the board of Governors at National Council for Cement and Building Materials (NCCBM) constituted by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India. He also serves as Vice President of Cement Manufacturers Association of India.

Mr. Akhoury has a degree in Economics and MBA from the University of Liverpool; General Management from XLRI, Jamshedpur; and an alumnus of Harvard Business School.

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