Meeting the carbon challenge in the refractories market: Report from UNITECR 2023
Held in Frankfurt this year, the Unified International Technical Conference on Refractories (UNITECR) is the largest and most important conference for the refractories market. Imerys teams were present to set out their latest research and solutions for the refractories market and share Imerys’ wider sustainability product assessment methodology, SustainAgility.
Measuring the carbon footprint of refractory products is an increasingly important topic in the sector, which is sometimes perceived as lagging behind other industries when it comes to sustainability data. However, the replacement of fossil fuels in high-temperature processes (with hydrogen, for example) will certainly require new refractory products and materials. “This change is pulling clients in the direction of wanting more information about the carbon footprint of refractory products and the raw materials they are made of,” says Christoph Wöhrmeyer, Imerys Science & Technology Director for Refractory Producers.
The theme of this year’s UNITECR, “The Carbon Challenge: Steps and Leaps to Master the Future,” reflects this change underway within the sector. Imerys' teams were keen to take on the challenge and set out Imerys’ approach in the refractories sector.
Refractory experts from across Imerys’ Sales, Marketing, Science & Technology, and Sustainability functions attended the conference, contributing a total of nine papers and presentations on a broad range of topics related to refractories, including hydrogen corrosion of refractory materials, new specialty minerals and binders for applications in refractories for steel flow control, aluminum, and waste-to-energy.s. "Our delegation presented many excellent papers and talks that were well-appreciated by our industry peers,” said Wöhrmeyer.
Rising customer demand for sustainability data about refractory products
One of Imerys’ most notable papers at the event was "Data-based carbon footprint of Imerys specialty minerals for refractories,” presented by Solange Ranaivoharilala, RAC Product Sustainability Manager. During her talk, Ranaivoharilala explained how Imerys’ methodology for providing customers with product-specific data about the carbon footprint of refractory products formulated with Imerys specialty minerals is particularly advanced and robust.
In serving this increasingly important customer requirement for sustainability in the refractories market in as comprehensive a manner as possible, Imerys is a benchmark within the sector. “We are well advanced in the industry, helping create the basic standards in terms of carbon footprint data,” she said. “Our customers are really happy with the data that we are able to provide them with. One client described us as the best in class!”
Showcasing our sustainability initiatives in refractories and beyond
In addition to technical presentations, this year Imerys hosted a booth featuring an interactive touchscreen display allowing conference attendees to explore a wide range of Imerys’ sustainability commitments and initiatives across the world, notably in refractories.
The display featured 16 projects, including the recent initiatives to convert fossil fuels kilns to biomass waste at our Andersonville plant in the USA and the development of a solar power plant at our white fused alumina production site in Bahrain. “There are real steps being taken in our portfolio,” said Wöhrmeyer. “The trend in the refractories market is doing more with less.”
The booth display also introduced attendees to the SustainAgility Solution Assessment (SSA), the Group’s global methodology to develop and manage its product portfolio from an environmental and societal point of view. SustainAgility offers a robust and transparent system for assessing products based on a standardized life-cycle-assessment methodology, including cradle-to-grave analysis.
This framework thus helps clients better understand the environmental footprint of Imerys products and make informed purchase decisions in line with their environmental ambitions. Based on international standards and validated by an independent third party, it leverages the masses of data that Imerys has available to give customers a detailed analysis of each product, ranking them by their social and environmental contribution to the downstream value chain.
Imerys leaders recognized for their dedication to the refractory industry
The conference was also the occasion to celebrate Imerys’ long-term commitment to research and professional development in refractories. Two senior figures from Imerys, Chris Parr, RAC VP for Science & Technology, and Nancy Bunt, RAC Global Sustainability Director, were honored with the UNITECR Distinguished Life Members award. A testament to Imerys’ dedication to refractories, it is the first time two people from the same organization have been recognized during the same edition of the event.
Reflecting on another successful conference, Bunt said: “As we met to find solutions to the carbon challenge, I have no doubt we will continue to collaboratively find solutions to leave the world a better place.”
Refractories can withstand high temperatures and the activity of liquid metal, hot gasses and liquid slag.
Refractories are the enablers of all high temperature process industries in which the essential goods for our everyday life are manufactured, and that are indispensable for the transition towards sustainable construction, electricity and mobility with decarbonized steel, aluminum, glass, cement, copper, silicon, lithium, and many more.
Articles you might be interested in
As urbanization in India accelerates, so does the country’s construction sector and demand for locally-produced, sustainable construction practices suited to the subcontinent. Inaugurated one year ago, Imerys’ state-of-the-art calcium aluminate plant in Vizag, Andhra Pradesh, in India’s southeastern coastal region, produces new products that answer this precise need. It recently showcased its products and initiatives during a construction workshop for customers on October 16 in Mumbai.
Nestled in the heart of Brittany, Glomel is home to a priceless geological treasure: an andalusite deposit of exceptional quality, mined by Imerys for over half a century. Let's find out more about this precious "Breton pink gold", from its extraction process to its many industrial applications, and Imerys' commitment to responsible, sustainable mining.
With the construction of a new onsite energy recovery plant, Imerys is capturing the feedstock energy contained in syngas, a by-product generated during the carbon black manufacturing. The project – a partnership with energy supplier E.On – will significantly reduce the environmental footprint of carbon black – a key additive in lithium ion batteries serving the clean energy transition.
Achieving much more with less, or using less to achieve much more. That was the challenge Imerys experts set themselves in designing the next generation of specialty binders, designed for a market calling for greater performance with less product and lower environmental impact.