Wednesday, June 26, 2013 - 15:56

InterCement research uses microalgae to reduce CO2 emissions

Holding for the cement business of Camargo Corrêa Group signs agreements with three federal universities and USP for biofixation of carbon

InterCement, holding of the cement business of Camargo Corrêa Group, is financing a pioneer study for mitigation of CO2 emissions in the national cement industry with three research centers from federal universities and USP (University of São Paulo). In all, R$ 5.6 million will be invested in the next four years. The funds will be used to purchase equipment for laboratories, finance scholarships, build bioreactors on pre-pilot scale and pay researchers involved.

The first agreement will be celebrated with UFSCar (Federal University of São Carlos) and UFSM (Federal University of Santa Maria), with co-management and operation of pilots from Algae Biotecnologia Ltda. Researchers will study the CO2 biofixation system through the cultivation of microalgae and cyanobacteria. Microalgae have high photosynthesis efficiency and are CO2 fixators. The combustion gas from the cement furnaces is directed for the cultivation of microalgae in bioreactors. 

The expectation is that biofixation has the potential to neutralize 30% of emissions. The process creates direct impact on the reduction of CO2 generated in the production of cement, complementing strategies to reduce the “carbon footprint” by avoided emissions.

Two techniques already adopted by InterCement seek to reduce emissions by replacing fuels. This is the case of co-processing, which can be done with unserviceable tires or other products, and the replacement of clinker.

"InterCement believes that the continuity of business depends not only on economic performance, but rather on responsible operation in the social and environmental aspects. Partnerships with research centers are key to identify innovative techniques that can be applied with efficiency and safety on the production chain", says Adriano Nunes, director for Sustainability and Innovation.

A second agreement is being conducted with ESALQ (Higher Agriculture School of Agricultura Luiz de Queiroz, from USP) and UFC (Federal University of Ceará) for the disposal of the biomass and algae generated in the process. The research is aimed at seeking the economic balance of the operation with trials of nutrition of fish and shrimp. By opting for aquaculture instead of biofuels, for example, InterCement took into account the growing demand for food in the production chain and studies that point to higher added value in the operation.

The investment in research on biofixation of CO2 is part of the sustainability efforts developed by InterCement. The company is a reference in the control of emissions in the cement sector and has one of the best worldwide rates of greenhouse gas emissions per ton produced. InterCement’s greenhouse gas inventory won, in 2012, the Gold Seal of the Brazilian GHG Protocol Program. The emission levels stood at 531 kg CO2/ton, while the world average among companies from the same sector participating in the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI) is 653 kg.

The agreements for CO2 biofixation research and adaptation of biomass as food for aquaculture are the first signed by the company with the scientific community that do not directly transform cement and concrete. Other two projects announced this year, for example, finance research for production without additional generation of CO2  with renowned study centers from São Paulo.

The partnership with USP contemplates investments of R$ 5 million for the installation of a sustainable construction research center at the Polytechnic School (Poli-USP). The first research of the new center will be around eco-efficient concrete, especially with lower carbon footprint. Another agreement was signed in 2013 with the Institute for Technological Research (IPT), with the allocation of R$ 5 million, 50% from incentives from BNDES – FUNTEC and 2.5 million from own resources for the production of cement using debris from civil construction – without additional generation of CO2.