2000 years old: cement!

To prove that I am somewhat behind the times, I have to make a confession: Whenever I tell somebody that I have worked „in cement“ I get a startled look as a reply. Remarkable given that almost every building in the world is held together by the stuff. Cement seems to be one of the most ignored and most relevant substances in human societies. The “cement” entry in Wikipedia confirms this claim of mine once again:

Beginning with the comprehensiveness of the article I spot a number of omissions that would really help people’s understanding of the industry: First, there is not one mention of how the manufacturing process works – shedding light on the mix of elements that is required and the evolution of cement kilns (from long wet kilns to pre-heater towers today) would help people’s understanding of that factory they may have in their area. Secondly, understanding the economics of the cement business can help understand the bigger picture of a country’s economy. It is, for example, possible to reliably predict construction bubbles or assess a country’s infrastructure via its cement consumption per capita or the total tonnage of cement consumed. Lastly, it is noteworthy that this industry has basically existed since the Roman Empire without meaningful innovation that may now be instilled by start-ups that want to produce cement using sea water.

Looking at the sources which are used, I am not surprised to find scientific articles referred that mostly refer to the engineering side of this industry. However, given the lack of academic attention in the space (you can count scientists in this space on one hand), more up-to-date information as well as research from the big players in the industry should be taken into account (e.g. via the annually published sustainability reports which record alternative fuel usage rates or CO2 emission rates). The vague statements under the rubric “green cements” lack citation entirely which makes their bold and very broad claims questionable.

High standards of neutrality are adhered to in the article which is great to see – especially regarding contentious issues such as CO2 emissions. A minor issue is the reference to a specific cement company in the caption of a photo.

The readability of the article, however, has clear room for improvement. Beginning with the structure of the article, economic and technical points oddly rank on the same level of the hierarchy (e.g. “Curing”, a processing issue when making concrete, and “Cement industry in the world”). While I think that the formatting style manual is adhered to in the article, these issues pertaining the outline of the article are at times really confusing (e.g. the last point about “green cements” which really should be a sub-point of item 2 “types of cement”).

Lastly, illustrations are used very sparingly, but could really highlight some key points very clearly. I am thinking especially of the chemical elements required for cement production, the share of cement in ordinary concrete or even illustrations of the production process.

Overall, I would conclude that the article contains all key information about cement as a substance, if you really look for it.  Having said that, it is structured and illustrated quite poorly which leads to some key information getting lost (for example, the fact that 50% of all CO2 emissions are inherent in the chemical reaction that takes place in the kiln which means that even a perfectly efficient plant could never omit these). Additionally, no reference is made to the economic relevance or economics of cement itself, which I would regard as a major omission.


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