Cement firms set up own power plants to save on costs

(Malaya, B-10, May 26, 2005)

The Cement Manufacturers Association of the Philippines reported that the industry is improving energy by setting up its own power plants.

The industry can’t do less since fuel and power account about 50 to 80 percent of production cost.

CeMAP president felix Alfiler said the industry is becoming showcase of creative solutions to the energy problem in the country.

“The energy situation in the Philippines has probably brought out the best in each of the cement manufacturers in their drive to adapt. Local cement companies have evolved into decidedly fitter enterprises,” Alfiler said.

Self-generation is one way cement companies are saving on energy. Some cement firms have also started to go into self-generation of energy by setting up their own power plants.

“This will allow kilns to continuously operate and be less susceptible to power fluctuations and outages. Capital expenditure for the power plant is about $1 million per megawatt hour,” Alfiler said.

Use of alternative fuels is also being explored and tested extensively. Despite the massive costs, many companies are turning to indigenous products such as rice husks and used tires to power the plants’ kilns.

The CeMAP Alternative Fuels sub-committee is also working closely with the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), the approving authority for the industry’s use of fuels not covered by an Environment Clearance Certificate. Alternative fuel use is already widely accepted abroad, with many companies, such as pet food manufacturers, allowing cement companies to dispose of their wastes in their kilns.

Companies are also turning to more environment-friendly cement variants that are made with clinker substitutes, which aid in lowering the cement plants’ power consumptions.

One of the latest energy-related innovations has enabled cement companies to hurdle the skyrocketing prices of imported coal from China.

“The prices of Chinese coal had become so prohibitive, we were forced to consider purchasing local coal which has now become more affordable relative to Chinese coal,” Caridad Francisco, purchasing manager of Repubic Cement, said.

However, since local coal did not have the same superior qualities of Chinese coal in terms of burning consistency, Francisco said, cement companies had to work fast in retooling their machinery so that they could utilize local coal without any adverse effect on the resulting quality of the cement product.

All cement companies now also use “green fuels” to replace conventional energy sources while saving the environment. Mostly derived from farm wastes, which would otherwise pose problems in disposal, these unconventional fuel sources are being used by cement companies in varying degrees.

In recent years, cement companies have also successfully shifted from the more energy-intensive wet process to the less energy-using dry process when preparing raw materials for firing.

After initial preparation, the material is heated in large kilns with flames reaching 1800 to 2000 degrees Celsius to produce clinkers, a process that is typically fuelled by coal. The energy used by kilns to produce clinkers takes up about 90% of the total manufacturing process while raw material processing of raw materials and grinding of the final product account for most of the remaining.

Alfiler noted that while local cement companies prefer not to share their saving and efficiency measures with the competition, all of them have certain practices in common. These energy efficiency measures include reduction of kiln heat loss through the use of better quality, high-temperature insulation and to some extent, shortening the length of the kiln, use of highly efficient motors and upgrading the kiln combustion system to achieve good throughput at maximum efficiency.

Alfiler said strict internal energy audits have also become standard practice among cement manufacturers. “Cement companies have actually instilled in everyone a culture of energy conservation, efficiency and foresight,” he added.

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