Breakthrough solar technology to help produce emissions-free cement

The project will support the decarbonization of energy-intensive cement clinker production.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The new venture's solar technology.jpg
The new venture's solar technology.

Synhelion  

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $3.2 million to Solar MEAD, a joint project headed by CEMEX, Sandia National Laboratories, and Synhelion, which aims to decarbonize cement production.

This is according to a press release by the companies published on Thursday.

Solar MEAD has ambitious plans to replace the use of fossil fuels with concentrated solar thermal (CST) energy in clinker production, the key component in cement. CEMEX and Synhelion have been working together to introduce CST in the cement production process, achieving the first successful laboratory-scale demonstrative pilot in 2022 by producing the first-ever solar clinker. 

Clinker production

Clinker is produced by fusing limestone, clay, and other materials in a rotary kiln at temperatures nearing 1500°C. Polluting fossil fuels are traditionally used to heat the kiln and are responsible for approximately 40 percent of the direct CO2 emissions of the process.

Synhelion's breakthrough technology delivers high-temperature process heat beyond 1500°C.

"Cement produced with solar energy is an exciting technology with tremendous potential to reduce the carbon footprint of cement production," said Fernando A. González, CEO of CEMEX. 

"Achieving our net zero carbon goal by 2050 will require relentless innovation such as this to discover and scale breakthrough technologies."

Breakthrough solar technology to help produce emissions-free cement
Close-up of Synhelion’s solar receiver, which provides the necessary process heat to decarbonize clinker production.

The new project will look at methods to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, lower process temperatures, and increase the efficiency of clinker formation using solar energy. 

"Few renewable technologies are capable of generating heat at the temperatures needed to process raw cement feedstock," said Nathan Schroeder, Sandia researcher and principal investigator for the Solar MEAD project. 

"This project will advance our understanding of how to use concentrating solar technology to gather and deliver the heat to existing cement production facilities and will have crosscutting relevance to other ore processing industries such as refractory, ceramics, and battery production."

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Replacement of fossil fuels

If the companies prove successful, their new process will not only allow for 100% replacement of fossil fuels but also result in a more efficient and lower-cost carbon capture process when compared to the current state-of-the-art technologies.

"The project offers us the opportunity to use our sustainable technology to support the decarbonization of energy-intensive cement clinker production," said in the statement Gianluca Ambrosetti, CEO and Co-Founder of Synhelion.

"This solution can have a huge impact on the industry and will help to pave the way towards net zero. We are proud of contributing to this goal."

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