Can the Egyptian cement industry secure its fuel supplies?

Suez Cement and Italcementi’s first waste treatment plant in Egypt was inaugurated this week. The project uses 45,000t of household waste to produce 35,000t of alternative fuel annually. Given Egypt’s on-going fuel concerns the project will be watched closely.

Italcementi has much riding on the success of the project. It has five integrated cement plants in the country. As reported in early February 2014, the cement producer suffered reduced production capacity in Egypt despite ‘potential’ domestic demand due to limited energy availability. Cement sales volumes in Egypt for Italcementi have continually fallen since 2011, accelerating from a 5.4% year-on-year reduction in 2011 to a 17.6% year-on-year reduction in 2013. Yet, despite this, rebounding domestic demand was reported in 2012 and 2013.

It must be extremely frustrating for Italcementi. It has the production capacity, it has demand but it doesn’t have the fuel to power its lines. Any additional fuel will be welcome. At a rough and conservative rate of 200kg of fuel per tonne of cement produced, Italcementi and Suez Cement’s new alternative fuel stream could help to produce 175,000t of cement or about 1.5% of the cement producer’s clinker production capacity of 12Mt/yr.

Lafarge, with its mega 10.6Mt/yr cement plant outside of Cairo, hadn’t suffered (publicly) as much as Italcementi from fuel shortages until the publication of its financial results for 2013. Although sales had decreased year-on-year since 2009, this has been blamed on competition. Now it has been announced that cement volumes decreased by 30% in the first half of 2013 due to shortages of gas. This was mitigated through fuel substitution to a 19% drop in the third quarter and a 7% drop in the fourth quarter.

However, Lafarge’s strategy for fuel security may be threatened as the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs ordered the producer to stop preparations to build storage units for petcoke in February 2014 citing environmental and economic reasons. What happening here is unclear given that the Egyptian government has been encouraging cement producers to move away from using natural gas.

The examples above show the reactions two multinational cement producers, Italcementi and Lafarge, have made to secure their fuel supplies. The outcomes remain uncertain.

In other news, Shijiazhuang in Hebei province in China has started the demolition of 17 (!) more cement plants. This follows 18 plants that were demolished in December 2013. In total, 18.5Mt/yr of cement production capacity has been torn down.

This is more than the cement production output of most European countries or any single US state! Where was this cement going previously? What were the effects on the price of cement in China? Who is taking the loss for the destruction of this industrial production capacity? 

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