New research aims to maximize SCMs

10th Aug 2023

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New research aims to maximize SCMs in cement composition via digitalisation

A new research effort led by FLSmidth is working to use digitalization and advanced predictive modelling to maximize the use of supplementary cementitious materials in cement, a key pillar to decarbonise cement.

Supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) play a key role in cement industry pathways to net-zero. This slightly unwieldy term covers a range of materials from natural pozzolans to calcined clay and industrial byproducts, e.g. fly ash, blast-furnace slag, silica fume and, recently, recycled concrete fines and mining tailings. 

SCMs have a lower carbon footprint than traditional Portland clinker. Thus, clinker substitution with SCMs is a “surefire way to reduce CO2 emissions”, explained Dr Wilson Ricardo Leal da Silva from FLSmidth’s Green Innovation team. “The ultimate goal is to reduce clinker factor from about 70% today to 40% by 2030, targeting CO2 emissions of 0.2 tCO2 per ton of cement.” But there are challenges… “While the use of SCMs is likely to increase in the cement in coming years, as cement plants pressed to lower their emissions, it can be complicated for a single plant to transition between various SCMs. In this context, being able to switch between SCMs quickly and flexibly will provide a competitive advantage to cement and concrete producers”, continued Dr Leal da Silva.

To address these challenges, FLSmidth is leading a new research partnership titled DETOCS – Data Enabling Transformation and Optimization towards Concrete Sustainability. “Cement plants already gather vast amounts of operating data. Our ambition is to combine this data and fundamental understanding of cement chemistry to create advanced predictive models, allowing cement plants to quickly adapt and optimise their processes to new SCMs and produce very low-carbon cement on demand” said Dr Leal da Silva. The development of such a model requires an interdisciplinary effort; therefore, DETOCS includes experts in material science, data scientists, technical standards as well as process engineers and cement producers.

DETOCS comprises industrial and academic partners, namely: FLSmidth, Cementos Argos, C2CA Technology B.V., Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Erasmus University Rotterdam, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Environmental Coalition on Standards, ETH Zürich, Imperial College London, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ParticleTech ApS, RWTH Aachen, Statwolf, TU Delft, University of Padova, Mannok Cement, University of Aberdeen, and Université Grenobles Alpes. While Breakthrough Energy, the German Cement Association, Kline Consulting, and Kompas Venture Capital compose the external advisory board.

DETOCS is funded by the Horizon Europe’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. The consortium will support 15 PhD students. “Each doctoral candidate will gain interdisciplinary knowledge needed to deliver game-changing cleantech innovations, while contributing to develop a novel engineering solution that helps decarbonize cement” concluded Dr Leal da Silva. The project officially launches in September 2023.