Skip to main content
18 Feb 2020

MPA wins £6.02 million BEIS award for ground-breaking fuel switching decarbonisation demonstration projects

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has awarded the Mineral Products Association (MPA) £6.02 million for ground-breaking demonstrations of hydrogen and plasma technology. The project will demonstrate the potential of these technologies to reduce carbon emissions through fuel switching from fossil fuels in cement and lime production.

The cement trials will take place at sites operated by Tarmac and Hanson Cement. The cement production trial comprises two demonstrations, one of electrical plasma energy and biomass fuel and the other of hydrogen and biomass energy.

The UK lime production trials will take place at a site operated by Tarmac - demonstrating the applicability of hydrogen as an alternative to natural gas for lime manufacturing. Both projects will see their results shared to their wider industries and supply chains, to spread the benefit to UK and global industry, and maximise the environmental benefit of the technology. The MPA projects are forecast to be completed by the end of March 2021.

Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, Kwasi Kwarteng, said:

"Reducing emissions from homes and industry is a key part of our work to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050.

"This innovative project by MPA and its members is an exciting development and could make a significant impact on our net zero ambitions."

Nigel Jackson, MPA Chief Executive, said:

"This important award demonstrates MPA members' commitment to collaborative research and innovation to meet the industry's climate change objectives. We are proud to be able to facilitate this collaboration between our members and Government and it's the latest example of our ongoing efforts to deliver our contribution to tackling climate change."

Dr Richard Leese, Director - Industrial Policy, Energy and Climate Change said:

"This fuel switching research is truly ground-breaking for the cement and lime industries. Our members have made huge strides in reducing carbon emissions by using waste derived and biomass fuels, and this research will be a cutting-edge demonstration of how it could be possible to operate cement and lime kilns with a 'net zero' fuel mix. This could be a significant step change in emissions reduction with global deployment potential."

Mike Eberlin, Managing Director of Tarmac's Cement & Lime business said:  

"Securing this funding is an extremely positive step for our industry as we support the UK's ambition of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

Collaborative working and embracing innovative technologies are key in our collective efforts to create a lower carbon, resilient built environment and we're proud to be involved in such an important project which will help inform industry and Government strategic plans on decarbonisation." 

Hanson UK CEO Simon Willis said:

"We are delighted to be playing a leading role in this collaborative research project as part of our sector's approach to find more sustainable manufacturing processes.  

"Cutting carbon emissions is a key priority for us at Hanson and our parent company Heidelberg Cement Group is the first in the industry to commit to producing carbon-neutral concrete by 2050 at the latest. "These BEIS-funded research projects could represent a significant step change in supporting the UK government's sustainable development goals as it responds to climate change."

These demonstration projects follow a BEIS-funded feasibility study in 2019 which found that a combination of 70% biomass, 20% hydrogen and 10% plasma energy could be used to eliminate fossil fuel CO? emissions from cement manufacturing. The aim now is to test that theory.


The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy's announcement can be found here:

Background Notes:

Cement: State of the art fuel mix for UK cement production to test the path for 'Net Zero': a technical, environmental and safety demonstration.

Cement manufacture is a fuel and electricity intensive process that requires high temperatures (in excess of 1450ºC) to heat raw materials of limestone and clay. After heating, the raw material becomes molten and is then cooled to produce an intermediate product, clinker, which is then ground with other additives such as gypsum to produce cement.

UK cement manufacturers have already invested millions of pounds in fuel switching from coal and petcoke to the use of waste biomass and waste part biomass fuels. However, 83% of the thermal input required to manufacture clinker still arises from fossil energy (whether virgin fossil fuels or waste from non-biomass origin) and there are CO2 emissions associated with this.

The key issues to be addressed in study for each fuel switching option for cement are:


  • Power supply requirements
  • Cement kiln specific prototype plasma torch design
  • Composition and choice of plasma gases
  • Thermal stress tests of plasma torch electrodes
  • Optimised location of the plasma burners


  • Hydrogen delivery system to the kiln burner
  • Hydrogen compatible prototype burner design/modifications
  • Empirical observation of flame radiation performance
  • Assessment of the potential for kiln start up on hydrogen
  • Clinker formation evaluation.
  • Whole life CO2 assessment of hydrogen use in cement manufacture


  • Optimised biomass fuel design
  • Assessment of availability and supply constraints to widely deploy the
  • biomass fuel
  • Main burner prototype design and optimisation
  • Assessment of flame characteristics, velocities, recirculation and burnout


  • Scale up potential
  • Emissions impact
  • Deployment potential

If successfully demonstrated to be technically and financially viable, this world first of a kind fuel switching could yield emissions savings of as much as 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year at 2018 production rates, if fully implemented across the UK cement industry. This is equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions from 266,000 households and equates to 0.6% of 2018 UK greenhouse gas emissions.

This fuel switching option could be implemented flexibly which would enable plants to respond to changing costs and availabilities of electricity, biomass fuels and hydrogen gas. For example, because cement production is a 24hr operation plasma energy could be used at times of low power demand or when there is an excess of renewable generation on the grid.

The study will inform the hydrogen and electricity infrastructure needs for industrial fuel switching in the UK which is vital to the Government's strategic plans on decarbonisation.

Results of the trials will be shared with all cement manufacturers, their parent companies and cement plant and equipment suppliers. As such the project has the advantage of full disclosure and the potential opportunity to benefit the UK and the global cement industry and bring large scale environmental benefit.

Lime: Alternatives to Natural Gas for High Calcium Lime Manufacturing: Hydrogen

This project aims to use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel for high calcium lime manufacturing. Natural gas systems are well established in the lime sector, both in terms of supply and process design and management. Alternative gas feeds will need to be considered not only for the possible impact on product quality, but also on operational processes, process engineering, health and safety, environmental management and workforce skills and competencies.

All lime is manufactured through high temperature kiln processes whereby calcium carbonate – from limestones or chalk - is heated to drive off carbon dioxide. This chemical reaction occurs at about 1,000ºC and is known as calcination. The residence time of the stone in a kiln varies depending on the type of kiln and type of final product required but can be anything between six hours and two days.

In the UK, high purity limes are required to service diverse markets, such as in mortars and renders, iron and steel manufacturing, soil stabilisation, emissions control, water and wastewater treatment, and pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. To meet the demands of these markets, UK lime is manufactured from high purity limestone. Natural gas is the preferred fuel as it introduces few impurities and is readily available through the gas transmission system. It also has lower carbon emissions when compared to solid fuel alternatives such as coal or lignite. There are currently no examples of replacement gaseous fuels for natural gas that would ensure the quality of the high calcium lime product required in the UK.

Key challenges to be addressed to convert lime kilns to hydrogen include:

Gas density/calorific value, combustion stoichiometry, and flame speed and temperature and the impact on kiln performance and product quality.

NOx, other emissions to air and exhaust gas moisture content, including the formation of emission products in the kiln, and the impact on emissions control systems.

The long-term embrittlement and degradation of materials in kiln systems, including damage to refractories.

By delivering projects through the British Lime Association (BLA), the project outcomes can be shared widely across the sector. The BLA is part of the Mineral Products Association and a member of the European Lime Association (EuLA) and the International Lime Association (ILA) ensuring that UK technologies and best practice will have the widest possible reach.


For further information, please contact Elizabeth Clements at