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29 Sep 2021

World first UK hydrogen trials demonstrate pathway to net zero cement

A UK cement kiln has successfully been operated using a net zero fuel as part of a world first demonstration using hydrogen technology.

Led by the Mineral Products Association (MPA), Hanson UK and made possible by Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) funding, the trial used a mix of 100 per cent net zero fuels including hydrogen for commercial scale cement manufacture for the very first time.

During the demonstration at Hanson Cement’s Ribblesdale plant in Lancashire – a culmination of several years of work – the proportion of fuels in the cement kiln’s main burner was gradually increased to a wholly net zero mix*.

The mix consisted of tanker delivered hydrogen as well as meat and bone meal (MBM) and glycerine – by-products from the rendering and biodiesel industries respectively – demonstrating the pathway to moving away from using fossil fuels in cement and concrete production.

If fully implemented for the whole kiln system nearly 180,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide could be saved each year at Ribblesdale alone compared to using the traditional fuel of coal at the site.

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

“Our sector is committed to advancing ground-breaking collaborative research and innovation to meet the industry’s climate change objectives.  This world first trial has demonstrated the potential of using net zero fuel mixes for the manufacture of cement at commercial scale.

“Building on the significant steps our members have already taken through the use of waste derived fuels, in the future we envisage that combining the use of net zero fuels with Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage (CCUS) technology will enable the production of cement to capture more CO2 than it emits.”

Energy & Climate Change Minister Greg Hands said: “This project, supported by £3.2 million in government funding, is a key example of how we are supporting industry to reduce emissions and move away from relying on fossil fuels.

“Fuel switching and developing hydrogen technology will be vital for decarbonising industries such as cement production, and will help us further develop the green infrastructure needed as we drive forward the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution”.

Iain Walpole, Hanson UK’s environmental sustainability manager, who managed the project, said: “We are delighted to be involved with this world-leading project, which is a further example of our commitment to cutting CO2 emissions.

“The results of the trial are exciting and the prospect of using hydrogen in the fuel mix will help us – and others in the sector – on the road to net zero carbon. It will also contribute to our ambition of supplying net zero carbon concrete by 2050.”

The £3.2 million project has been funded by BEIS as part of its Industrial Fuel Switching Competition and is part of fuel switching trials managed by MPA at two sites. 

A demonstration using plasma energy with biofuel in the kiln’s calciner will be taking place at a site in Derbyshire operated by Tarmac, alongside another trial exploring the use of hydrogen as an alternative to natural gas for lime manufacturing.

MPA will share results from all projects with cement producers and other energy-intensive industries both in the UK and globally as best practice examples, with the aim of spreading and maximising the environmental benefits of the technology.

The trial at Ribblesdale follows a BEIS-funded feasibility study in 2019 which demonstrated that a combination of biomass, hydrogen and plasma energy could be used to eliminate 100 per cent of fossil fuel CO2 emissions from cement manufacturing.

Fuel switching away from fossil fuels, including the potential to adopt hydrogen technology, represents one of seven key levers in MPA UK Concrete’s Roadmap to Beyond Net Zero. Published last year, the roadmap sets out the UK concrete and cement industry’s own commitments to achieving net zero, having already decarbonised by 53% since 1990.


Notes to editors

*The fuel switching trial has used ‘grey’ hydrogen as a proof of concept, which can be substituted for ‘green’ hydrogen in future.  At a 100% net zero mix, the proportion of fuels in the cement kiln was approximately 39% hydrogen, 12% meat and bone meal (MBM) and 49% glycerine.

To manufacture cement, raw materials including limestone and clay are firstly heated by the combustion of fuel in a preheater or ‘calciner’ at around 900°C. The heated material passes to a rotary kiln where it is then heated to 1,450°C to produce clinker.  Clinker is ground with gypsum and other materials to produce grey Portland cement.

About the Mineral Products Association:

The Mineral Products Association (MPA) is the trade association for the aggregates, asphalt, cement, concrete, dimension stone, lime, mortar and silica sand industries. With the merger of British Precast, and affiliation of the British Association of Reinforcement (BAR), Eurobitume, MPA Northern Ireland, MPA Scotland and the British Calcium Carbonate Federation, it has a growing membership of 520 companies and is the sectoral voice for mineral products. MPA membership is made up of the vast majority of independent SME quarrying companies throughout the UK, as well as the 9 major international and global companies. It covers 100% of UK cement and lime production, 90% of GB aggregates production, 95% of asphalt and over 70% of ready-mixed concrete and precast concrete production. In 2018, the industry supplied £16 billion worth of materials and services to the Economy. It is also the largest supplier to the construction industry, which had annual output valued at £172 billion in 2018. Industry production represents the largest materials flow in the UK economy and is also one of the largest manufacturing sectors.

About Hanson UK

Hanson UK is a leading supplier of heavy building materials to the construction industry. It is split into four business lines – aggregates (crushed rock, sand and gravel), concrete, asphalt and contracting and cement – which together operate over 300 manufacturing sites and employ more than 3,500 people. For more information, visit: 

Hanson UK is part of the HeidelbergCement Group, one of the world’s largest integrated manufacturers of building materials and solutions, with leading market positions in aggregates, cement and ready-mixed concrete. Around 53,000 employees at more than 3,000 locations in over 50 countries deliver long-term financial performance through operational excellence and openness for change. At the centre of its actions lies responsibility for the environment and HeidelbergCement leads the cement sector in the area of climate protection, having been awarded a place on CDP’s 2019 and 2020 Climate Change A-list. It has committed to reduce net CO2 emissions per tonne of cement by 30 per cent by 2025 (based on 1990 figures) and will realise its vision of carbon neutral concrete by 2050 at the latest. For more information visit:

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