Saturday, 20 June 2015

Holcim/Aggregate Industries: the costs and benefits

One of the ‘big five’ construction material suppliers in the UK has applied to build a new quarry near Ottery St Mary:
Futures Forum: Quarrying in East Devon >>> Aggregate Industries' planning application for Straitgate Farm site >>> consultation to 2nd July
Futures Forum: Quarrying in East Devon: Aggregate Industries' planning application for Straitgate Farm site: imminent

The media has shown considerable interest:
OTTERY: Plans for farm quarry submitted to council
Ice Age woodland threatened by plan to quarry sand from farmland in East Devon | Exeter Express and Echo
East Devon quarry block ‘will put jobs at risk’ | Exeter Express and Echo
Plans for 2.8m tonne quarry on the outskirts of Ottery St Mary | Exeter Express and Echo
OTTERY: Straitgate Farm quarry plans are ‘totally unacceptable’

Aggregate Industries is part of what is likely to become the largest cement manufacturer in the world - the Swiss-owned Holcim conglomerate:
Holcim - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
EU clears key hurdle to Lafarge, Holcim merger - The Economic Times

The latest version on Wikipedia makes much of Aggregate Industries's 'sustainability' credentials:
Aggregate Industries - sustainability - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[See an older version, which does not: Aggregate Industries - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

This is a recent piece from the BBC on another project by Aggregate Industries in the country:

Bardon Quarry expansion work begins
8 June 2015 From the section Leicester

The quarry is currently 390ft (120m) deep with about five years' worth of material left to extract

Work to triple the size of a quarry which was used to build London's Olympic Park is under way. Bardon Quarry, in Leicestershire, is currently 74 acres (30 hectares) in size but is expected to run out of granite in the next five years.

Aggregate Industries has permission to extract a further 142m tonnes of rock which will increase the site to about 222 acres (90 hectares). It will extend the life of the quarry for about 40 years. The site has been quarried for 150 years but it is expected to be exhausted by 2020. Aggregate Industries successfully applied for planning permission for the increase in 2011, with the site expected to be fully operational by 2020.

Quarry estate manager Graham King said: "We've tested the materials by putting bore holes down. We know precisely its physical properties and precisely how much material we have to remove to get at the underlying 142m tonnes of granite."

Landscaping to build embankments around the site, to mask the noise, has begun and the firm has started to strip the clay from the top. Tunnels will also be dug below Bardon Hill, linking the extra site with the processing plant. Any unwanted materials will be used to partially fill the disused quarry. Material from the site has been used to build Wembley Stadium, Silverstone, the M1 and St Pancras Railway Station.

More on this story
Leicestershire quarry extension to safeguard 140 jobs 27 May 2011

Bardon Quarry expansion work begins - BBC News

There are wider questions, however, about the quarrying and mining industries:
Futures Forum: The impacts of the mining industries

Holcim/Aggregate Industries does not seem to be one of the 'bad boys' in the extraction industries:
Selling Off Apache Holy Land - The New York Times
Rio Tinto: founded on blood | Green Left Weekly
Center for a Stateless Society » Rio Tinto: A Real-Life “Billy Jack” Villain

And yet, there are questions around the environmental impact of producing aggregates:

There is the question of the 'sustainability' of concrete, one of Holcims' main products:
Futures Forum: How sustainable is the construction industry? ... 'Concrete is responsible for 7-10% of CO2 emissions' ... 'The industry must shift its emphasis beyond recycling and towards reuse'
U.S. Cement Industry Protests EPA's Proposal to Regulate Kiln Emissions | GreenBiz

There are also big questions around road-building, which is where Aggregate Industries is dominant:
Futures Forum: Subsidies and social engineering: or why we build roads.
Futures Forum: Climate change: asphalt and urban heat islands
Futures Forum: Alternatives to asphalt for building roads ..... gravel, or ..... concrete, or ..... glass as solar panels

However, the construction industry is looking into the viability of its resource pool:

Footprints in the sand

Written by Grace Goss-Durant, Holcim. Updated on 16 June 2015.

Worldwide consumption of sand equates to around 40 billion t annually and, accounting for an estimated 30 billion t of this, construction has by far the biggest ‘sand footprint’. Applications include land reclamation and building road embankments, but perhaps most significantly fine aggregates such as sand are also an essential component of concrete and asphalt. A single kilometer of highway, for example, requires 30 000 t of sand. Making up around 35% of the volume of concrete, sand fills voids and provides strength to produce a truly solid and reliable building material.

Given that the global population is projected to reach over 9 billion by 2050 and construction activity is expected to grow accordingly, the long term trend of sand scarcity – and the significant and diverse challenges it generates – is an issue to which the construction materials industry needs to respond. By taking action now to address this growing global challenge, Holcim is positioning itself as part of the solution and laying the foundations for a more sustainable future.

Construction sand shortage leads to development of manufactured sand

This is happening in other areas too - so says the industry:
Holcim Canada Inc. | Sustainable construction awards showcase resource efficiency and innovation
Lean, efficient and sustainable
Concrete shows off green credentials

But the expansion of operations - not necessarily 'sustainable' - is meeting opposition:
Quarry fears lead residents into battle with multinational | Herald Scotland
Dusty Cemex Cement Plant Violates CAA, Feds Say - Law360
De baby dolls tóxicos a ganancias cementeras | El Financiero

And the 'greening' of production of aggregates does not always mean a cleaner system emerges:

High cement demand pushes up pollution in developing countries

Elisabeth Rosenthal / IHT Oct 22 2007.

In booming economies from Asia to Eastern Europe, cement is the glue of progress. The material that binds the ingredients of concrete together, cement is essential for constructing buildings and laying roads in much of the world.

A cement plant in Hubei province, China

Some 80% of cement is made in and used by emerging economies; China alone makes and uses 45% of global output. Production is doubling every four years in places such as Ukraine. But making cement creates pollution, in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and the greenest of technologies can reduce that by only 20%. Cement plants already account for 5% of global emissions of CO2, the main cause of global warming.

Compounding the problem, cement has no viable recycling potential, as the abandoned buildings that line roads from Tunisia to Mongolia demonstrate. Each new road, each new building, needs new cement.

“The big news about cement is that it is the single biggest material source of carbon emissions in the world, and the demand is going up,” said Julian Allwood, a professor of engineering at Cambridge University. 
“If demand doubles and the best you can do is to reduce emissions by 30%, then emissions still rise very quickly.”

Worse yet, green incentives may be allowing the industry to pollute even more. The European Union subsidizes Western companies that buy outmoded cement plants in poor countries and refit them with green technology.

The emissions per ton of cement produced do go down. But the amount of cement produced often goes way up, as does the pollution generated.

Many of the world’s producers acknowledge the conundrum. “The cement industry is at the centre of the climate change debate, but the world needs construction material for schools, hospitals and homes,” said Olivier Luneau, head of sustainability at Lafarge SA, the Paris-based global cement giant. “Because of our initiatives, emissions are growing slower than they would without the interventions.”

Cement manufacturers have invested millions of dollars in programmes like the Sustainable Cement Initiative, yet many engineers like Allwood see “sustainable cement” as something of a contradiction in terms, such as vegetarian meatballs.

High cement demand pushes up pollution in developing countries - Livemint

Meanwhile, other areas of resource extraction are coming under increased pressure:
Coal crash: how pension funds face huge risk from climate change | Environment | The Guardian

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