Making cement isn’t the greenest of industries. As a matter of fact the dust and greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere is a major contributor to global warming. But love it or hate it, cement is the stuff that keeps our buildings, roads and other infrastructure glued together.

But despite its dented image, technology and a green conscious are playing a heavy hand at making an ancient industry sustainable.

Bamburi Cement Ltd is one of the biggest and easily recognizable names in the East African cement industry. This manufacturer’s name is also synonymous with the world famous Haller Park in Mombasa’s North Coast. This park, once a lifeless pan of quarried limestone, has been transformed into a lush wildlife habitat complete with rare antelopes, giraffes, crocodiles, fish and hippos in the water ponds. In addition to the 35-year-old Haller Park, Bamburi Cement rehabilitates 17 hectares of used quarries every year, increasing the size of its wildlife heaven in the midst of an increasing urban metropolis.

Cemented Relations

Cement has been used for thousands of years by humans. According to the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI) of which Lafarge Bamburi Cement is a founding member, nearly three tons of concrete are consumed for each man, woman and child each year. In particular, cement kilns (industrial ovens) are the main energy-consuming and greenhouse-gas–emitting stage of cement manufacturing.

To make traditional cement, limestone is heated to more than 1,000 degrees Celsius, which turns it into lime-the principal ingredient in cement, and carbon dioxide – the principal greenhouse gas, which is then released into the air. Under these conditions, for every tonne of ordinary cement produced, a ton of air-polluting carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Worldwide, 2.5 billion tons of cement is manufactured each year, creating about 5% of global man-made CO2. Other emissions include dust and gases such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), dioxins, furans and other trace gases.

Sustainable Development

Blasting the earth for limestone is the principle source of cement. In the vicious circle of life, the explosive blasting is responsible for increasing global temperatures at a time when climate change is high on the international agenda as seen in the case of the recent Copenhagen climate conference.

“Global warming presents a direct threat to our business besides the rising sea levels,” says Alfred Wafula, Bamburi Group’s Environment co-coordinator. “Supply of power, water and other essential services for manufacturing are already being impacted by global warming. It is in response to this that Bamburi Cement is cutting down on gas emissions through increased energy efficiency and substitution of fossil fuels.”

On the other hand, trading in carbon, in what is being referred to as carbon emission trading is catching on fast as an incentive to invest in ‘green’ projects to absorb the carbon molecules.

“Bamburi is looking at carbon emission trading and is currently in the process of registering several Cleaner Development Mechanisms (CDM) projects”, explains Bernard Osawa, the Resources Recovery/Alternative Fuels Manager. “In our plant at Hima-Uganda, we have already achieved a 30% fuel reduction by using coffee husks to replace heavy fuel oils.”

In the Research and Development division, Lafarge researchers are working at developing cement products suited to the diverse needs of customers while reducing their impact on the environment.

Sustainable Mining

Bamburi Cement is also undertaking to invest Ksh. 100 million to plant over 500,000 trees every year to harvest for fuel as a substitute to fossil fuels. In this undertaking, local communities are being engaged to plant the trees while at the same time being encouraged to plant bio-fuels in their farms for use in the company’s kilns.

The company is also keen on ‘sustainable construction’ which takes into account the complete lifecycle of a building, from the initial choice of materials to demolition and recycling. “Sustainable construction means,” explains Osawa “amongst many things, integrating renewable energy sources at the design stage, using recyclable materials during construction to preserve natural resources, improving the ventilation of buildings, controlling the aging of constructions, recycling materials and structures after demolition, and designing low-cost housing to improve living conditions for low income populations.”

“Sustainable construction for low cost housing is viable,” chips in Emily Waita, the Corporate Communications Manager. “In India, Lafarge launched the ‘Affordable Housing for the Masses’ project to help the poor access housing. This project asserts the legitimacy of using concrete and cement to construct low-cost houses that take environmental considerations into account. This is also the goal of the Eco-City Project, initiated by Lafarge and the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) in South Africa. In this case, Lafarge South Africa donated 300 tons of cement and 70 m³ of concrete to build a village of 30 ‘green’ houses in Midrand, a poor district of Johannesburg. These houses have low energy consumption thanks, in particular, to the use of solar energy.”

International Recognition

For their sustainable work, Bamburi Cement and its subsidiary Lafarge Eco Systems have been internationally recognized for the management of used quarries and developing its signature Haller Park and nature trails.

Amongst the recognitions is the COYA (Company of the Year Awards) 2009 Best Environment Improvement Award. The Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) also awarded the company the International Habitat Conservation Award for the rehabilitation of its work at its Mombasa quarries. Further, in 2010 and for the sixth year in a row, Lafarge was listed in the ‘Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World’, an annual project initiated by Corporate Knights, the Canadian magazine for responsible business practices.

The current focus for improving cement production process is in increased energy efficiency, using alternative fuels, and greater use of cementitious additions such as slag and fly ash.

“We also need to see laws enforced, internal accountability and compulsory reporting and the rewarding and recognizing of good environmental practices and public awareness,” says Emily. “And of course the government must increase its socially responsible investments undertakings.”

Revolutionizing Cement

Stanford Professor Brent Constantz who at 27 created high-tech cement that revolutionized bone fracture repair in hospitals worldwide is now working on creating ‘green’ cement which could see the end of carbon dioxide belched into the atmosphere in cement manufacturing. Still in its early stages, the technology would see the reduction in carbon dioxide emission.

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