The Future of Cement in North America

Written by Robert Hoshowsky

Privately-held McInnis Cement Inc. was formed following the Beaudier Group’s acquisition of Cimbec in December of 2011, and the many decades of combined experience will be showcased by the new plant and a strategically-located marine terminal.
Without a doubt, the jewel in McInnis Cement’s crown is the new plant being developed in Quebec’s Port-Daniel-Gascons. It is the first greenfield plant of its kind being constructed in Canada in over half a century. In that time, much has changed, from construction methods and materials to environmental considerations. Once online, the plant at Port-Daniel-Gascons will be unlike any other in the country.

“The new plant in Port-Daniel-Gascons is the icon of the company, but the most important point is, McInnis is a new cement company,” says Chief Executive Officer Christian Gagnon. “We are not only building a new cement plant but building a total, brand-new company, with all functions and a distribution network. There have been partial modernizations of plants over the years, but not building a new plant from the ground up.” The new cement plant and its attendant marine terminal are scheduled to be completed later this year and operational early 2017.

“What the government did is invest $100 million as a shareholder in the project and agreed to a construction loan of $250 million for the project at market conditions and legalities,” says Gagnon. “Some have said we are receiving subsidies, but that’s not the case at all; there are no subsidies in that financing.”

The highly-experienced management team includes Gagnon – who has held key cement and aggregate industry positions in Alberta, British Columbia and Greece – and the company’s Senior Vice President Marketing, Sales & Distribution, Jim Braselton. Senior staff realized many of the cement-producing plants across Canada are aging; a large number of them were constructed soon after the end of the Second World War.

The project is in a prime location for accessing raw materials and has been years in the making. Environmental studies which allowed the project to proceed date back to 1995, and construction initially began in 1998 to 1999 but was interrupted. Modifications were made, to increase annual cement production from 1,000,000 to 2,200,000 metric tonnes (MT), ‘with the possibility of optimising the process to further increase annual cement production capacity by fifteen percent,’ according to the company. Construction resumed in 2013.

The project abides by environmental regulations, including one prepared by environmental experts and filed with the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment, Wildlife and Parks (MDDEFP). Additionally, McInnis Cement has actively consulted with residents of Port-Daniel-Gascons and surrounding areas through methods such as a community liaison committee of elected and non-elected local representatives. This includes representatives from the Municipality of Port-Daniel-Gascons, neighbouring municipalities, the Regional Environmental Council (CREGÎM), the Regional Health Authority, the Rocher-Percé Tourism Association and others who are looking to provide valuable input.

“At the time Beaudier acquired the company from Cimbec, they also acquired all the environmental permits, which had been granted after the mid-1990s,” comments Gagnon. “Of course, now in the twenty-first century, we were very conscious that we had to adapt everything, be very transparent and forthcoming with the environment and make sure we were doing our homework in every aspect. Working with locals, we updated all technical and environmental studies to a standard over and above what was requested by the legal context.”

The new cement plant at Port-Daniel-Gascons is one of the country’s most important construction projects and is in an area rich in limestone used to produce superior-quality cement. The marine terminal holds many immediate and long-term economic and environmental benefits. By being located on the Baie des Chaleurs – a non-freezing body of water – McInnis will be able to transport cement by vessel year-round with great efficiency and at a lower cost to clients along the Eastern Seaboard and other locations. In terms of the environment, one ship worth can transport the equivalent of 1,500 truckloads, resulting in significantly reduced carbon emissions compared to hauling cement by road.

And then, there is the new cement plant itself that will use up to forty percent less fuel per ton of cement than old-fashioned plants. The plant will be outfitted with the latest technological innovations, such as bag filters in a series of filtration stages, to optimize efficiency and comply with American standards as outlined in the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP (2015). These standards are, at present, more stringent than applicable standards in Quebec, making the new Port-Daniel cement plant the only one in Canada to meet NESHAP 2015 standards.

Although new regulations introduced by the U.S.-based Environmental Protection Agency last September on toxins apply only to domestic producers, McInnis made the decision to meet that requirement voluntarily. “That’s on the toxin side,” says Braselton, who has been with the company three and a half years. “On the greenhouse gas side, it will have the lowest greenhouse gas footprint by a lot relative to other North American plants.”

Using petroleum coke as fuel will see kilns operate at very high temperatures. In the coming years, McInnis plans to reduce its environmental footprint even more as it partly replaces petroleum coke with biomass, which is available in the Gaspé region.

When he was hired four years ago, CEO Gagnon was told that McInnis’ new plant was going to be the best, most modern and would be created using environmentally-friendly technology. Having the lowest carbon footprint possible in the cement industry with current technology means that energy-savings can be found in areas from fuel consumption to the electricity needed to grind in the concrete-making process.

The plant is planned to be a continuous operation and will be a showcase of technology and intelligent use of energy. Conventional plants in North America consume about 140 kWh per ton; by comparison, the state of the art facility at Port-Daniel-Gascons will use only 90 kWh per ton.

“These initiatives allow for a very efficient, low-cost and environmentally-friendly distribution model,” says Gagnon, “and vessels coming in by water is the best distribution mode. We had all the alignments from the start.”

The cement plant has already created many positive economic benefits for the roughly nine hundred workers hired during the various stages of construction and for those who will work here in the long-term. Of the approximately two hundred staff at McInnis, about half will work on plant-related operations with the remainder at the company’s two head offices in Canada and the United States and at its distribution terminals.

From its ideal location on the water, McInnis can readily serve customers in the eastern half of North America, extending all the way to Houston, Texas. It can even address markets that have shortages through the use of economic and environmentally-sensitive deep water vessels. This, says Braselton, puts the company at a tremendous advantage over the competition, many of which are land-locked and have to use costlier methods to transport cement. “So it is a combination of the environmental footprint – which is a differentiator – but also service and availability and consistency.”

Most pleasing of all to Braselton and Gagnon is that McInnis Cement is not only a new company, but it is a company with a refreshing new vision of how to conduct the cement business in North America. “We started this project at the bottom of the cycle in the business,” says Braselton. “We have the luxury of being able to select human resources from anew, and the supply of good human resources with experience in the business is out there, due in part to the cutbacks of the existing players. For us, we have the ability to bring in top-shelf people, and we’re seeing that happening across the functions. So the human resource part of this is going to be a huge differentiator, if you just imagine what you can do when you have mostly high-performing people. We can create things in a total different way, with a much greater level of efficiency. So it’s also a nice place for people to work at.”



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