Lafarge continues to follow alternative fuel path

By Elliot Ferguson, Kingston Whig-Standard
Monday, July 11, 2016 

Lafarge is moving ahead with the next phase of a project to research alternative fuels.

The company is seeking ways to replace coal and coke with low-carbon fuels in its cement kilns.

A multi-year research project with Queen's University researchers is examining the results.

"It's all part of a retooling of the cement industry," said Robert Cumming, environmental director for Lafarge Canada. "We've been using fossil fuels for 100 years. We know how to use coal and coke. This is all new and it has been a more challenging process than we could have imagined at the beginning two years ago."

A public meeting about the next phase of Lafarge's low-carbon fuel project is set for 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Loyalist Golf Club in Bath.

In 2013, Lafarge received almost $2.7 million in federal ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative funding as part of an $8 million project to research the use of waste materials to replace the coal and coke used to fuel cement kilns.

The goal of the project is to replace about 10 per cent of the coal and coke Lafarge uses with low-carbon alternatives.

According to Lafarge, the country's largest building materials manufacturer, the Canadian cement industry emits about 3.8 per cent of the country's carbon dioxide emissions. Between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of those emission are due to fossil fuel use.

The Bath plant alone produces enough cement to build a CN Tower every four days.

Cumming said one of the biggest challenges was setting up a supply chain for different waste material and building new infrastructure at the Bath plant for handling it.

Plus, each truckload of waste material is slightly different, and part of the research project involves figuring out how various material performs as fuel.

The first phase of testing involved using railway ties, telephone poles, construction and demolition debris, shingles, paper sludge and coated cardboard as fuel.

The second phase of testing is to look at the use of household goods, non-recyclable packaging, textiles, carpet and disposable cups and lids, including beverage pods.

"All the fuel types we've been looking at, to be honest with you, have been used elsewhere, whether it is shingles or construction and demolition debris or, more recently, non-recyclable packaging," Cumming said. "What has not been done is the degree of analysis, before and after emission testing with a statistical analysis to look for effects."

The opportunity to work with a large industrial partner is a boon for Queen's researchers, too.

Cement manufacturing is an energy-intensive process, requiring high temperatures in the kiln reaching 1,000 C.

Because a cement kiln is so hot and rugged, it is among the safest places to dispose of many materials that could end up in a landfill, said geography professor Warren Mabee, who is studying the different life cycles of products that could be used as industrial fuel.

The industrial-scale tests are matched by lab experiments at Queen's.

"We have a good sense of what the pollutants are, or won't be, and what the safety will be in utilizing these different feed stocks," Mabee said.

"We did want to branch out and look at a variety of different feed stocks. We wanted to do that, partly because we recognize that obtaining these post-industrial or post-consumer wastes is challenging. Being able to access a whole bunch of different types of wastes and knowing how they are going to perform is actually really important."

Lafarge's push to find lower-carbon fuels is, in part, motivated by Ontario's plan to introduce a cap and trade system for emissions next year.

"Ontario just announced its cap and trade legislation this year, but Lafarge has been active in reducing its use of fossil fuels for many years," Tyson Champagne, executive director of SWITCH Ontario, said in a statement. "This is a big deal because the cement sector represents around five per cent of the world's CO2 emissions."

Champagne said that using local waste material that would have ended up in a landfill to replace fossil fuels is "the epitome of a win-win situation for our region."

In addition to the environmental benefits, the local economic development impact is another exciting part of Lafarge's shift to lower-carbon fuels. New jobs will be created as imported coal is replaced with cleaner fuels that are processed and supplied in our area.