Published on March 21st, 2016 | by UC&D Magazine0
Holcim, Ashgrove Have Invested Millions in Local Plant Upgrades
In recent years the EPA has gradually been imposing more stringent rules on the Portland Cement Manufacturing Industry – including the most recent amendment, which was signed last July and went into effect in September – to the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP).
Despite those challenges, business has been steady for the Beehive State’s two cement producing plants – the Devil’s Slide Plant in Morgan, owned by U.S. Cement, LafargeHolcim, and Ash Grove Cement Co.’s plant in Leamington.
While firms wouldn’t disclose actual revenues or production supply numbers, it’s evident that Utah’s rising economy, pro-business government and top-flight transportation system are all positive contributors for the two plants, with slight growth estimates expected through ’17.
“While we continue to see consumption growth in the intermountain region driven across most all construction segments (with the exception of the energy sector), we have yet to hit true supply demand balance,” said John Stull, CEO of U.S. Cement, LafargeHolcim. “The forecast going forward shows approximately 5% growth rates for the next couple of years, which should bring supply demand into balance by ‘17-’18. All demographic indicators show once again that Utah and the intermountain west continue to be an in-migration area, given a continued low unemployment rate and favorable economic conditions, we could see balance earlier than predicted.”
Stull said production levels nationwide for his firm were essentially flat from ’14 to ’15, but sees a growing demand for cement, albeit at a modest rate.
“For 2016 we see some positive signs and are expecting further increases in plant production. We see a slow, but steady increase in demand and production from our network of plants. Post-merger (Lafarge and Holcim merged July 10, 2015 and produce nearly 370 million tons of cement annually), we are working to optimize our vast plant and distribution network to deliver quality and consistent products to our customers.”
Ron Smith, Plant Manager for Ash Grove’s 92-employee Leamington plant since October 2010, said business has been brisk and the outlook positive for the plant in general.
“We’ve seen the economy turn around,” said Smith, “so our forecast for shipments has continued to increase the five years I’ve been here. We’re getting to the point where our plant has to run well just to meet demands.” In addition to Utah, the plant ships cement primarily to Las Vegas and Elko, Nev., and Western Colorado.
Smith said Ash Grove has spent significant money upgrading all of its nine U.S. plants, but agrees with the ultimate goal of less CO2/greenhouse gas emissions is a good thing for everyone.
“We all want cleaner air,” said Smith. “The EPA has always had rules on how to operate. Overall, the company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars (in plant improvements),” said Smith, locally on items such as a bag house replacement, selective non-catalytic reduction equipment (designed to control noxious emissions), and continuous emissions monitoring systems – all state-of-the-art and critical to long-term success.
Stull said the Devil’s Slide plant – which was modernized in 1996 – has also invested significant funds in upgrades the past five years, including multiple optimization projects for improved thermal and electrical energy consumption. In addition, the company has invested in alternative fuels systems at the plant to process and burn various types of non-hazardous waste.
“The entire industry is expected to achieve emission levels set by the top performers from across the United States,” said Stull. “Our collective performance, including our performance in Utah, is now at levels better than the top 12% of the industry’s performance (the basis of the new regulations issued a few years ago). We (LafargeHolcim) are proud of the pollution reduction investments made in Utah and across the U.S. as these actions are in line with our values and those of our communities. Although we do not have precise data, there has likely been $100’s of millions spent by the industry to install pollution controls as required by the new regulations.”
Another trend in response to tighter EPA rules is the closing of older cement plants with outdated technology.
“From a national perspective, we have witnessed the shuttering of some manufacturing facilities using older technologies or those unable to afford the costs associated with the new pollution controls,” said Stull. “Upon completion of demonstrating compliance with the latest regulations, we are looking to the future both regionally and locally. Working with our communities and our research centers, we are continuously seeking sustainable solutions to improve our environmental performance, reduce our emissions of climate-change gases, lower our consumption of water and improve the biodiversity of the lands that we manage. We believe addressing these priorities in advance of additional regulation gives us a sustainable future and sets the bar for others in the industry.”