Cement makers refuse to buckle under the tough market conditions. they are making plans of their own to set things aright.
by Jayashree Mendes
The sombre grey of cement seems to match the moods of its manufacturers going by market behaviour. Data by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry shows that cement production has been falling consistently last few months. Production growth has gone negative since December 2017 and it hasn’t managed to right itself since then and grow. This should be a cause of worry for cement manufacturers, right? Wrong. Although they are not gung-ho, they are not subdued either. If one goes by the long-term plans that cement makers are building up, it only proves their faith in dispelling the transitory conditions that a VUCA world brings in. However, for this faith to be reaffirmed, going forward manufacturers will need assurance of availability of sand and aggregates that have been impacting growth.
Sectors like steel, cement and aluminium are most volatile. India is the second largest cement market in terms of both, production and consumption. The cement industry is driven majorly by housing and infrastructure sector. Interestingly, the government too has decided to chip in to help out. Since the last year, more roads & highways constructed are made of cement instead of the ubiquitous asphalt. A few months ago, the government allocated a budget of Rs 3.96 lakh crore to the infrastructure sector. The adoption of cement instead of bitumen for the construction of all new road projects has been mainly due to the durability and affordability of cement as compared to bitumen. This has partly renewed the fortunes of the cement industry. The next ray of light for the cement industry is expected to come from the Union Budget of 2018-19 if the government allots a significant budget to building roads & highways and irrigation projects.
Build them up
Manufacturing companies are leaving no stone unturned knowing that the industry will see a spike in sales. Consumption of cement is estimated to grow from 265 million tonnes (MT) in fiscal year 2017 to 322MT in FY20, according to a recent report by Nomura. Having anticipated this, the cement division of the Sajjan Jindal-led JSW Group is also increasing capacity at its Dolvi plant from one million tonnes per annum (MTPA) to 2.2MTPA by 2018, and will further expand it to 4.5MTPA by 2019. The company has commenced manufacturing of Concreel HD cement at its Dolvi unit in Maharashtra, a move that will help the company expand its retail presence in West India. Parth Jindal, MD, JSW Cement, said, “Concreel HD has had roaring success in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Now it will make its way into the Western states of India starting with Maharashtra. The Dolvi plant is further expanding to 4.5MTPA by 2019 to cater to the demand in the region. We are on track to meet the vision of 20MTPA by 2020.”
Another company that has worked at long-term plans is the CK Birla group firm Orient Cement. It is aiming for 15MTPA by 2020, and expects to reach 12MTPA this year alone, after the acquisition of Jaypee Group’s assets. With three manufacturing units — Devapur (Telangana), Chittapur (Karnataka) and Jalgaon (Maharashtra) — the company has an aggregate manufacturing capacity of 8MTPA with a clinker manufacturing capacity of close to 6MTPA. What buoyed the company’s ambition is its acquisition of two entities, Bhilai Jaypee Cement and Nigrie Cement Grinding Unit, from Jaypee Group firms for a total consideration of Rs 1,946 crore. Presently, it sells cement predominantly in Maharashtra, Telangana, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh, besides Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Goa and Tamil Nadu.
Wonder Cement, a part of RK Marble Group, is also planning to invest around Rs 2,500 crore for setting up three units in Dhule in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana and increase capacity to 11MTPA in next three years. JC Toshniwal, MD, Wonder Cement, said, “We have 5.2MTPA installed capacity and hope to increase to 11MTPA by 2020. We are setting up two million tonne grinding unit at Dhule in Maharashtra, for which we have received environment clearance and commence production by June 2018.” The company is also setting up two more grinding units at Madhya Pradesh and Haryana having around 4MTPA capacity, which will be ready by 2020, alongwith, adding second line of production at the existing unit at Rajasthan. The Maharashtra project will cost Rs 450 crore, while MP and Haryana units will need funding of around Rs 1,900 crore.
Ahead of the pack
With the term ‘concrete jungle’ having become too popular and widely used, it is easy to overlook that this building material has been around for so long for very good reasons. Also, it has some excellent attributes which make it very important in today’s context. Kishor Pate, CMD, Amit Enterprises Housing, says, “It is easy to produce and use, but the fact is that concrete is an eminently environmentally-friendly building material during the entire span of its life cycle, beginning from its production as a raw material right until it is demolished. This renders it the perfect and obvious building option for the construction of sustainable homes.”
The cement utilised in concrete is sourced from limestone, which is an abundantly available mineral that will literally never deplete. However, there is also a trend to manufacture concrete from materials such as slag cement and fly ash, both of which are generated by industries like steel mills and power plants as waste byproducts. From the point of recycling of existing resources, concrete is therefore a real boon to the planet.
Cement manufacturers also have a strong R&D str ategy in place. For instance, the Aditya Birla Science and Technology Company (ABSTCPL) works in association with the cement business research and development team at Khor, in Madhya Pradesh. The overall objective is to improve the profitability of the business. Enhancing productivity, new product development, reducing energy consumption and environmental impact, and technology revamping are the focus areas for cement research. The research strategy involves application of advanced science, technology and engineering platforms comprising fundamental process analysis, computational fluid dynamics, process modelling and simulation, process control, process development and laboratory experiments.
Early this year, Ambuja Cement (ACL) launched a highly superior cement, Ambuja Compocem. The company’s Chhattisgarh facility becomes the first cement plant in India to develop a composite cement after rigorous research of a year-and-a-half. The new offering – a combination of cement, fly ash and slag – has been introduced in Bihar and Jharkhand markets and thus opens yet another avenue of sustainable products in the construction industry. Ajay Kapur, MD & CEO, ACL, said, “Ambuja Compocem is another breakthrough product innovation from our stable. This product was developed in our laboratory by the product development and innovation team. With this, we have achieved a three-pronged sustainability approach by conserving natural resources, creating a greener product and fulfilling customer needs for a superior performance product. We call this approach – delivering True Value.”
Incidentally, in India, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has approved the usage of copper slag in various grades of concrete as a partial substitute for river sand and m-sand. In concrete preparation, the copper slag is approved to be used to the extent of 35% to 50%, depending upon the nature of the work. Copper slag is a key byproduct in the manufacturing process of copper, with very similar physical properties of conventional sand. Globally, copper slag is used in cement manufacturing, cement concrete applications, bricks and pavers manufacturing, land filling and abrasive applications.
Cement production process releases greenhouse gas emissions, both directly and indirectly. A lot of carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted from burning fuel and the conversion of limestone to oxide during cement production. The search for alternatives has led to the pathbreaking technology for the development of Limestone Calcined Clay Cement (LC3), an alternative building material that lowers CO2 emissions and energy consumption. It is cheaper to produce, requires low capital investment and has the potential to become the best sustainable substitute for Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC) or the fly ash-based Portland Pozzolana Cement (PPC). In India, pilot production of LC3 was completed in January 2015. Development Alternatives (DA), one of India’s oldest social enterprises that focusses on sustainable development, collaborated on an LC3 technology development project with Switzerland-based École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), which conducted the initial research.
LC3’s unique selling point is its composition: 50% clinker, 30% calcined clay, 15% limestone and 5% gypsum. The clinker content is about half as much as in OPC (which has 95% clinker), but the ‘secret sauce’ is calcined clay, which is waste china clay abandoned by mine owners for its poor quality. To produce LC3 cement, this waste is calcined at 750-8500 Centigrade — a process which requires half the energy used for clinker production and can be carried out using existing rotary kilns. The limestone used is again of low grade, and can be substituted by waste material from marble and kota stone, a fine-grained variety. As a sustainable, viable alternative to cement, LC3 has enormous potential. It can be easily replicated anywhere in the world, wherever china clay is available in abundance.