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Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

Cement and lime production is very important to the EU’s economy. Cement products are essential for construction and civil engineering, while lime is irreplaceable for the steel industry, as well as construction materials, paints, plastics, and rubber. Environmental concerns are of paramount importance for these sectors, and innovation includes the use of waste as an alternative raw materials and fuels.

Why cement and lime are important

  • EU Economy - in 2011, EU lime production was about 22 million tonnes, accounting for a €2 billion contribution to the EU’s GDP. In 2006, 267.5 million tonnes of cement, with a value of €9 billion, were produced in the EU by 356 installations. The EU cement industry in 2006 represented 10.5% of total world production. This decreased to 5.6% of world production in 2011 (195.5 Mt) however. Large cement plants produce some 4 000 tonnes of cement per day.
  • Employment – the lime sector has more than 11 thousand employees. The production of cement provides about 61 thousand jobs, as well as up to 365 thousand indirect jobs related to cement production. In addition, over 305 thousand people are employed in the production of concrete.
  • Links to other sectors - cement is also vital for the construction sector, which accounted for €1 640 billion worth of production in 2010, a total added value of €505 billion, and 20 million jobs.

Main challenges faced by the cement and lime sectors

  • Energy consumption - the production process is highly energy-intensive with energy costs representing up to 40% of total production costs for cement and up to 50% for lime;
  • Investment - kilns represent a very high, long-term investment. It is difficult for producers to respond to fluctuations in demand or to comply with new legislation on energy or emissions.

Competitiveness of the cement and lime sectors

  • Cement production - the majority of EU cement producers operate on a global level, giving them access to global best practice and technology. Raw materials are extracted mainly onsite, which avoids transportation costs and environmental damage.
  • Environment - cement uses carefully selected wastes from other industries such as secondary raw materials or alternative fuels. This helps decrease the environmental impact of other industries.
  • Investment - the cement and lime industries are capital intensive with the cost of laying down a cement production installation equivalent to around three years' turnover.
  • Innovation – innovation in the sectors includes the increased use of wastes as an alternative to raw materials and fuels, the development of new products such as energy and CO2 efficient buildings, adaptation to climate change, and seeking new market opportunities for cement-based products.
  • Trade - cement is a high-density product with a relatively low selling price. Transport costs are therefore a determinant to trade. The EU exports mainly to the US and imports come mainly from East Asian countries like China, Thailand, and the Philippines.
  • Non-EU countries – EU cement producers own almost 60% of the cement and lime production capacity in the US, and have significant production facilities in the rest of the world.

Sustainability in the cement and lime sector

The cement and lime production process is energy intensive and produces plenty of CO2. It falls within the scope of several pieces of environmental legislation, notably the Directives on emissions trading: Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), the incineration of waste, EU Emission Trading System, and the management of waste through Mining Waste Directive.

  • Emissions - aside from CO2 emissions, the cement industry's main emissions are NOX, SO2, and dust. Dust abatement has been widely applied for many years and SO2 is a plant-specific issue. NOX abatement has taken off in recent years with more than 100 selected non-catalytic reduction (SNCR) installations in the cement industry. Some plants work on improving the clinker quality which reduces energy consumption and emissions.
  • Agreement on CO2 emissions - the possibility of a cement industry agreement to reduce CO2 emissions is being explored through the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. This could provide a level playing field and alleviate the risks of carbon leakage.
  • Soil – soil is an important issue for the industry as it has to be removed in the quarrying of limestone. It is usually saved for use in quarry restitution however.

The Best Available Techniques (BAT) reference (BREF) document was adopted by the Commission in December 2001 under the provisions of the IPPC Directive, and has to be taken into consideration when permit conditions are determined. The revised cement, lime, and magnesium oxide BREF was adopted at the IED Information Exchange Forum meeting in 2013.