Holcim, the Swiss group specialising in construction materials, is preparing to mark a major turning point in the cement industry with its ambitious Go4Zero project, representing a colossal investment of over 500 million euros.
The company is starting the construction of the first decarbonised cement plant in Obourg, near the Centre Canal in Belgium. This visionary project is the spearhead of an overall strategy focused on sustainability, incorporating environmentally-friendly practices such as the use of alternative energies, material recycling and the development of new types of concrete.
A bold response to environmental challenges
Currently, the Obourg plant is proud to own the largest cement furnace in the world, but it is also one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) with a million tonnes a year. Morgan Malecotte, CEO of Holcim Belgium, emphasises that the cement industry generates 10% of CO2 emissions in Wallonia by itself. Aware of this reality, Holcim took the initiative to rethink its entire production cycle, while maintaining a vital economic commitment to the region.
An innovative project and an integrated approach to sustainability
Holcim’s Go4Zero project is not just a vision for the future, it is becoming a concrete reality. Europe has confirmed its financial support, and Holcim’s board of directors has approved a budget of 335 million euros. The works to build the new plant will begin in January, with commissioning scheduled for the end of 2026. Morgan Malecotte assures that the whole project, including CO2 capture, will be operational before 2030, representing a significant industrial challenge.
Technological innovation for a significant reduction in emissions
The new plant in Obourg will benefit from a 30% energy gain thanks to the use of limestone following the ‘dry process’ which is less energy intensive. The integration of an ultra-modern furnace controlled with artificial intelligence and the use of drones will make it a ground-breaking facility. CO2 capture, a crucial step, will take place using Cryocap technology, developed by the Air Liquide group. The CO2 captured will be liquefied and transported to be buried in the North Sea’s bed via the CO2 terminal at Antwerp Port.
Obourg’s strategic position and European support
Obourg was not chosen as a pioneering site for the decarbonisation of the cement sector by chance. The proximity of the Fluxys pipelines to convey the CO2 to Antwerp, the access to rail and the waterway, as well as the population density in a 300 km radius, were decisive factors. Holcim will receive 230 million euros from the European Union Innovation Fund, with additional support of 50 million from the Just Transition Fund.
Rethinking the whole production chain
Holcim is not just transforming its whole production process. The whole chain has been redesigned from transport to recycling. The limestone will be transported by rail, making Holcim the largest rail charterer in Belgium. The electrification of the lorry fleet is under way, with the ambitious target of achieving 1,000 electric lorries by 2030. The company is also exploring alternative energy sources, including a floating solar farm comprising 50,000 photovoltaic panels in flooded former quarries.
Innovative products and a commitment to circularity
Holcim is diversifying its products with innovative solutions such as ECOPlanet low carbon cement, Hydromedia draining concrete and special materials for the energy renovation of buildings. The group has also acquired specialist companies to strengthen its position in technical mortars and insulating materials. Committed to circularity, Holcim will invest in recycling units in its concrete plants, launching the EcoCycle platform to use up to 100% of construction waste in production.
A project that attracts talent
The Go4Zero project is not content to just transform the industry, it is also attracting talent. In the middle of a talent war, Holcim is already receiving open applications from engineers looking for meaning in their work. Morgan Malecotte emphasises that the project is not greenwashing, but a concrete approach to significantly reducing CO2 emissions, contributing to pride in the Mons industrial area.
Holcim is completely rethinking the concrete cycle in Obourg, and its Go4Zero project is making a giant step towards more sustainable and environmentally-friendly cement production. This large-scale project bears witness to Holcim’s commitment to innovation, sustainability and reducing CO2 emissions in the construction sector.