A Finnish consortium with ambitions to replace combustion processes with electricity-based solutions claims it can significantly reduce carbon emissions in cement and quicklime production.

The gas-tight, electrically heated rotary kiln used to achieve the preliminary results also has the potential to reduce emissions in other industrial sectors, say the partners behind the Decarbonate project.

Project lead, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, worked with manufacturer Kumera to build a 12m, gas-tight, electrically heated rotary kiln, which has been tested at VTT with the consortium’s 11 business partners, including cement manufacturer Finnsementti and limestone supplier Nordkalk. The kiln is stored in a sea container so it can be moved to industrial sites in the future.

VTT’s research suggests that, in theory, it is possible to run a cement plant with close to zero CO2 emissions by substituting combustion with low-emission electricity for decomposing calcium carbonate (limestone), the main raw material used for cement production.

The carbonate contained in the limestone is a problem because it decomposes into CO2 and quicklime when heated. The only way to avoid the emissions is to replace the limestone. Besides the construction sector, quicklime is also used in huge quantities in, for example, steel industries.

The aim was to replace existing fuel use of rotary kilns with electricity. In addition, the team says this makes it easier to capture the resulting high concentration of CO2, because it is not diluted to flue gases anymore, for storage or manufacture of low-emission products.

Initially, VTT used a 2m vertical tube reactor in its laboratory to test the production of both quicklime and the lime mud used in pulp mills.

Project manager and principal scientist Eemeli Tsupari explains, ‘The results were promising, so we started to search for interested partner companies to supply a pilot kiln. Finnish manufacturer Kumera was selected and built a bigger kiln than was originally envisaged, which was better at exposing the limitations of scaling up, such as heat transfer. Kumera has solved several challenges in kiln design.’

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