The era of China’s cement industry focusing on capacity expansion is long gone. Instead, the industry’s focus has shifted to energy efficiency, emission control and smart operations.
Article by Cyril Leung, Country Head China, FLSmidth
In the past, there was a perception that Chinese plants were dirty, lacked stringent safety standards and were relatively inefficient. Today, this is not the case. Over the last five or so years, the Chinese government and China’s cement industry have been remarkable in trans¬forming this reputation into one of innovation and environmental consciousness.
Be smart - be a smart plant
A big part of this transformative development toward smarter plants comes from the modernisation of equipment and systems. A good example of this are upgrades of the preheater pyro system, which holds a lot of potential for reducing energy consumption. This type of retrofit is particularly popular considering the role cement plants play in China’s waste management and the industry’s continuous focus on integrating well-designed, innovative and flexible pyro-processing solutions for municipal solid waste and hazardous waste.
With an ever-increasing population, it’s easy to imagine how waste management is a similarly increasing issue for the Chinese society. The garbage in China proves challenging mainly because of its composition and high moisture content. That’s why the Chinese government is pushing for more waste separation and is rewarding institutions that can manage the removal of waste.
Cement producers are among the institutions expected to help manage waste. From the perspective of a cement plant operator, burning garbage does not directly create profit. However, it is considered a license to operate in China and plays a part in corporate social responsibility duties.
Reprimands reel in results
The people of China and the Chinese government no longer accept murky skies or piles of municipal waste. Thus, the government is coming down hard on polluters and even shutting down plants that don’t meet environmental standards. In turn producers are proactively pursuing two actions: Firstly, upgrade their plants’ capability to reduce emissions. Secondly, to shut down their smaller, inefficient plants altogether. The results of these two actions have led to the trend of smaller plants being closed and being replaced by larger, more modern plants with advanced technology. Such new plants typically have a production capacity of 5-14,000 tonnes per day (tpd).
In 2018, 14 new production lines with a total capacity of 20 million tonnes were operationalised to replace outdated facilities. Impressively, 2019 anticipates a similar outcome with an estimated 25 million tonnes of new capacity put into operation.
Industry invests in earnest
Advances in the industry are typically driven by the large producers willing to make large investments in funding environmental and technological projects to make their operations more efficient and more environmentally friendly.
To keep up with such rapid advances, producers rely on fast decision-making. There is often no room for procrastination. This is a powerful characteristic of the shift in the Chinese cement market. To maintain this pace of development, there is a constant need for know-how within processes and resources – including raw materials, equipment, and spare parts. Meeting these needs will be key for producers to elevate their plants to ‘smart plant’ status.
The perfect match
Continuous research and product development has in recent years led to significant breakthroughs towards a more sustainable cement production - especially in areas like the preheater tower where the new Counter Current Cyclone (CCX) impresses. But throughout the production process equipment like the next generation Cross Bar® Cooler, the Jetflex® Kiln Burner as well as various new components in spare and wear parts helps optimise the production. We are engaging with key customers, Top 10 producers, to help them upgrade their pyro system and improve its efficiency; reducing emissions and improving energy consumption.
On China’s journey towards the Smart Plant, our portfolio of digitalization products such as quality control solutions like the QCX and PXP, and the gas analysis and emissions monitoring solution Airlog, plays a substantial role. Years of experience in the cement industry enables us to deliver complete and integrated digital solutions, and we are working closely with some key customers to support their journey and to realise their smart plant targets.
Next steps for Chinese cement production
Industry focus on energy efficiency, smart operation, labour protection.
Thinking about people and globalisation
It’s not only environmental reasons that motivate producers to work smarter. Plant owners are also interested in smart plants to attract the competence needed in the future.
As the current generation moves out of the workforce, the new generation is less willing to work in cement plants - they have had a bad reputation for being dirty and located in remote areas, which are unattractive working conditions for most young people. By introducing digital solutions, plants can build and expand the digital skill-set needed to stay competitive.
This shift influences another trend in the market: globalisation. The Chinese cement market is not an island. In fact, Chinese cement producers are becoming more and more internationally focused. Specifically, producers are making large investments in offshore operations. Using remote monitoring technologies, offshore cement plants can be monitored from headoffices in China.