Trash fuels carbon-neutral goals for SMC

Cement plant fields public questions during initial info session

  • Community   Wednesday, November 24, 2021   Matt Harris, Regional Editor

By Matt Harris, Regional Editor
The St. Marys Cement (SMC) plant took another step towards its not-too-distant future goal of carbon neutrality when they hosted a public information session on Thursday, Nov. 18, giving locals a chance to find out more about their project focused on using alternative low-carbon fuels (ALCFs) to power their operation.
Currently fueled by conventional fuel and fuel adjunct materials, SMC has proposed the use of ALCFs as part of their strategy to lower greenhouse gas emissions. They began their application to amend the Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) to incorporate permanent usage of ALCFs as well as hydrogen. This amendment comes under Ontario Regulation 79/15 – Alternative Low Carbon Fuels.
Among the examples of low-carbon fuels that could be used at SMC include, but are not limited to, the following: non-recyclable plastics like plastic bags, shrink wrap packaging; construction and demolition waste like carpets and textiles, sawdust, floor laminates; non-recyclable paper fiber/wood/plastic composites like single-serve coffee pods and paper towels.
Ruben Plaza, the corporate environmental manager for both Canada and the United States at SMC, said that when it comes to reducing their greenhouse emissions, there is no single solution that offers a complete package for cement plants.
“I think it will take a combination of solutions to enable us to reduce greenhouse gasses – it’s a long process that starts with this public meeting, where we’re showing the scope of intent to use low-carbon fuels,” he said. “Then we’re going to hear the concerns of the public before we schedule a second public meeting in January, where we’ll have some answers to those concerns. It’s a very good project, and I think it’s a win-win situation for everyone. We can reduce our greenhouse gasses and we can reduce some of the material that has some value but is going to a landfill, which is not good for everyone.”
The plant’s greenhouse gasses come from two different areas: the calcination of the rock creates about 60 per cent of the plant’s emissions, while the combustion of fuels makes up the remaining 40 per cent. And during the initial testing phase that has been conducted over the last 10 years since the project’s inception in 2011, Plaza said they have seen no statistically significant differences in ambient air concentrations of any contaminants resulting from the use of the ALCFs.
“Everything we’ve measured so far shows us there is no significant difference between the fuels we have been burning and the (alternative) low-carbon ones we tested,” he said.
Among the questions posed at the meeting, many dealt with smell issues that may arise from the use of alternative fuels. Plaza said that this part of the process puts the onus on SMC to obtain answers before the January meeting. It’s also something that St. Marys Mayor Al Strathdee said he’d overheard at the meeting during his time there.
“I do know that got brought up to the consultants at the meeting, and it has been included in the ECA – it wasn’t in there before,” he said. “This process isn’t new, as I understand that Sweden and Germany have been using it for a while now. The consistency and quality of the fuel source makes a difference, so if you’re getting a consistent source then smell shouldn’t be an issue.”
Strathdee said his conversations centred around how the materials will be stored and what impact any additional truck traffic will have on the town. But as with anything new, figuring it out requires change and that can take time for people to accept.
“I think this is a very positive step in the right direction because we’ve become very cognizant and concerned about environmental issues,” he said. “I saw that some people were engaged in very vigorous discussions, and every time someone mentions burning plastic there is a feat that comes with that. I think this is something we have to look at – if the climate emergency is a real thing, and I believe it is, then we have to start making changes. And sometimes that means making choices like this.”
Part of the information presented at the meeting included commitments laid out by the global cement and concrete manufacturing industry that would see greenhouse gasses reduced by 25 per cent by 2030, with carbon neutrality targeted for 2050.
Plaza thinks those goals are within reach.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re moving as fast as possible – we’re planning on meeting those targets, and this is one of the ways we’re working on to get there,” he said. “We’re looking for new technologies, and hydrogen is one of those we’re going to start looking into as an emerging technology … we’re being very aggressive in trying to meet those goals.”
The complete presentation can be found on the St. Marys Cement website ( under the Sustainability menu, and the public is invited to submit their comments to SMC up until December 17, 2021. Future notices and presentation materials will also be posted to the site. Anyone with additional questions can contact the company by email at