From roadmap to reality: putting words into net zero action


It goes without saying that the fortnight of discussions and negotiations taking place at the COP26 summit in Glasgow will be critical to steering the course of international action needed in the battle against climate change. 

For business and industry, the hope is that the agreements secured will provide greater clarity about what the future holds as we build towards a net zero society.  

In the UK, the recent the publication of the government’s Net Zero Strategy establishes the steps and proposals for fully decarbonising the British economy over the next three decades.  While this document marks a welcome step forward in setting out our collective pathway to net zero, sector specific detail for industry will need to follow. 

It’s now critical that we build on the momentum from COP26 and take advantage of this excellent opportunity to put in place new domestic measures to support energy intensive manufacturing industries including cement, which can help to accelerate decarbonisation and create UK net zero jobs.  Concrete remains an essential material for both our economy and our way of life, and its production remains critical for maintaining the resilience of the UK's national supply chain.

Twelve months ago, the UK concrete and cement industry set out a landmark roadmap to deliver and go beyond net zero by 2050.  Building on the collective early action which has seen the sector reduce absolute CO2 emissions by 53% since 1990 – decarbonising faster than the UK economy as a whole – it sets out how, through seven separate technology levers, the industry will remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than is emitted each year.

Since the roadmap’s publication, we have not been standing still. Work has been progressing at speed across a number of our different technology levers to turn words into meaningful action.

In September a UK cement kiln burner successfully operated using a net zero fuel as part of a world first BEIS-funded demonstration using hydrogen technology.  Continuing to replace fossil fuels with alternatives will deliver significant savings as part of the roadmap.  The trial has helped to demonstrate the potential of using net zero fuel mixes for the manufacture of cement at commercial scale. Read more

Separately, in October HyNet North West was confirmed as one of two industrial clusters to receive key backing under the government’s carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) cluster sequencing process.  Representing the most significant technological shift, CCUS has the potential to make the greatest CO2 reduction in our roadmap.

Stretching from Flintshire and Wrexham, through Cheshire, Liverpool and Greater Manchester into Lancashire – HyNet North West has the largest concentration of advanced manufacturing and chemical production in the UK and significantly includes Hanson UK’s Padeswood cement works.

In addition to bringing major economic and employment benefits to the region, it will allow investment in a carbon capture plant at Padeswood, which will connect to the planned HyNet CO2 transport and storage system. A CCUS feasibility study at the site is already being carried out, which will provide a clear design basis and cost estimate for the next stage. 

Once complete HyNet is set to reduce regional CO2 emissions by up to 10 million tonnes – including up to 800,000 tonnes from the Padeswood plant alone – every year by 2030; the equivalent of taking four million cars off the road. 

Crucially, key learnings from both projects will be shared by cement producers and other energy-intensive industries both in the UK and globally with the aim of accelerating the environmental benefits of the technologies.

Despite this positive progress, we know that we cannot deliver net zero alone and will need concerted support from Government together with significant change across other industry.

The coming days, weeks and months will be critical as world leaders and domestic policymakers meet and agree to the measures and investment that will allow us to achieve net zero.  In the meantime, the concrete and cement industry will remain focused on converting its roadmap into reality.

By Dr Richard Leese, Director - Industrial Policy, Energy and Climate Change, MPA