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Ohio cement plant looks to wind to reduce footprint of energy-intensive industry

PHOTO BY Hank Doster / One Energy

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Meanwhile, other work in the Midwest is exploring ways to capture and use some of the carbon dioxide created in the cement-making process.

Workers broke ground this week for a One Energy wind project at LafargeHolcim’s Paulding cement plant in Ohio. The three turbines being built by the Findlay-based energy company will supply about one-fifth of the cement plant’s electricity needs. They should also eliminate more than 9,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

LafargeHolcim plant manager Robert Pitt sees the company’s 20-year renewable energy agreement with One Energy as “a nice long-term fixed price hedge” on electricity costs, which should let it save money over retail electricity rates.

“And of course, every opportunity we can to reduce our carbon footprint, we try to take,” Pitt added. LafargeHolcim has a global goal of 40% lower net carbon emissions per metric ton by 2030, compared to 1990.

Those emissions matter because of climate change. The global cement sector is the second largest industrial emitter of carbon dioxide, responsible for about 7% of emissions worldwide, according to a 2018 report from the International Energy Agency, and accounts for a similar proportion of industrial energy use.

  • LafargeHolcim employees at a groundbreaking ceremony. / Photo courtesy LafargeHolcim

Aligned interests

Locking in a price for long-term electricity costs also helps energy-intensive businesses plan ahead, said One Energy CEO and General Manager Jereme Kent.

“It has to be a good business decision if you really want it to be a true sustainable project that makes sense for the company at all levels,” Kent said. A customer might pay a premium to achieve environmental benefits. But the project must still provide an economic benefit as well.

The Paulding plant project will do that, Kent said. The three turbines’ 12 million annual kilowatt-hours of wind energy will feed directly into LafargeHolcim’s operations and offset its retail consumption from the grid. That’s a “much higher rate than wholesale numbers,” Kent noted.

The Paulding plant site also works well for One Energy’s business model of constructing and operating wind turbines for industrial facilities. The cement plant is expected to continue operating for several decades, so a long-term power purchase agreement makes sense. And there is a lot of acreage at the site.

LafargeHolcim mines limestone on some parts of the site, which spreads over several hundred acres.

The three turbines will sit on part of the site that was formerly a quarry. They should start producing electricity by the end of this quarter, Kent said. Land around the foundation for each turbine will be seeded with grass at the end of construction. LafargeHolcim can determine what other use it might wish to make of that area, he added.

The project will also further solidify the ongoing business relationship between the company and One Energy, which itself is a customer of LafargeHolcim. “We are very proud to use LafargeHolcim cement in our foundations” for turbines within the plant’s market area, Kent said.

Energy efficiency is also an ongoing focus, Pitt noted, both for reducing electricity use and for improving the plant’s thermal efficiency. Other cement plants across the country take a similar approach. Two dozen U.S. cement plants were among the 100 facilities that earned Energy Star certification from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2018. Midwestern plants on the list included Buzzy Unicem USA and Continental Cement Company, both in Missouri.

Additionally, while the furnace at the Paulding cement plant emits greenhouse gases, it actually uses non-fossil fuels made from processing wastes. There’s an offsetting effect, Kent said, because those materials were “going to get burned anyway.”

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on April 19, 2019

Working out how to get cement industry to be powered more renewably, wind or otherwise, would be a huge coup for the climate-- the cement industry is notoriously energy intensive, as you note in the article, so hopefully this is the first of many such projects to come

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