A new California law aims to cut the state’s greenhouse gas related to its cement sector to net-zero emissions by the end of 2045. Experts say it will likely influence federal regulations for cement.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the legislation, Senate Bill 596 or “cement sector: net-zero emissions strategy,” on Sept. 23 as part of a slate of new measures aimed at various climate and clean energy efforts. It will take effect Jan. 1. The law requires the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to develop a strategy to reach the carbon neutrality goal. It also sets interim goals including a 40% GHG reduction by the end of 2035, although it does allow for the board to adjust the goals by mid-2028.

The new law and strategies could impact national standards, says Dana Palmer, a partner at law firm Allen Matkins who specializes in environmental and natural resources issues. He expects the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could begin its own rulemaking process for cement-related emissions within the next year.

“People realize that this regulatory process, even though it will only affect California, will likely be very influential on the federal regulatory process, especially with a like-minded administration currently in Washington, D.C., and it potentially could have ripple effects across the planet,” he says.

Thomas Tietz, executive of the California Nevada Cement Association, says California’s cement manufacturers are already committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2045, although he adds it will be “extraordinarily difficult.” The group released its own plan for carbon neutrality earlier this year, based on process emissions, combustion emissions/fuel switching and electricity generation. The new law should be able to help the state’s cement sector accelerate its adoption of new technologies, switch to alternative fuels, produce low-carbon blends and add efficiency improvements, Tietz says.

For contractors, AGC of California CEO Peter Tateishi doesn’t expect any major changes from the new law.

“We’ll always meet the specifications based on what it is,” Tateishi says. “It may increase how we bid work, but I don’t think it’ll change how we do the work.”

To develop its strategy, CARB will define a metric for GHG intensity and evaluate 2019 data from cement manufacturing plants to establish a baseline. Then it will evaluate current and new measures to help reach the net-zero goal, working with experts from the industry, government agencies and elsewhere. It will have just 18 months to develop the comprehensive strategy, a timeline that Palmer calls “light speed in the context of governmental regulation.”

Palmer says there will be many public meetings and opportunities for companies in the industry to participate in the process. Because of the short timeline, he recommends that anyone interested — even from outside California — join when the process gets started in early 2022. The cement manufacturers group and AGC of California both intend to work with the air board throughout the process.

“We’re going to want to make sure that, as we’re implementing the law, it’s done in a way that won’t impact or harm our ability to do the work that is already in motion and has been bid out,” Tateishi says.

There are already some available technologies and practices Tietz says California cement producers can use to reduce their GHG emissions, although some state regulations actually make it harder to implement them than in other states. If a cement plant wanted to use waste heat energy, it would technically be classified as a utility, adding a slew of complications.

“Until we change some of those things, we’re stuck,” he says.

Other promising technologies still need more development before they can be widely implemented by the industry, Tietz says. He points to carbon capture and storage as one example that works but is currently prohibitively expensive.

Pricing is a big concern for suppliers, Tietz says. In California, cement producers are competing with imports from Asia.

“If any of this becomes too expensive for us to implement, we lose our competitiveness,” Tietz says. “This is all part of the balance that needs to be carefully considered as we move forward.”

The bill states that CARB will promote state and federal incentives to reduce the costs of implementing GHG reduction technologies and processes, and will evaluate ways to support market demand.

“They recognize that inducing market demand for ‘greener’ cement may be necessary,” Palmer says.

The first incentives will likely be geared toward bidders on government contracts by requiring lower-carbon cement, Palmer says. As ENR previously reported, about 40 state DOTs already accept a new portland-limestone cement mix with a 10% lower carbon footprint than traditional portland cement, according to the Portland Cement Association.

State Sen. Josh Becker, a Democrat from Menlo Park, sponsored the bill. He’s working on a follow-up bill he says would add low-carbon concrete to California’s Buy Clean law in order to drive demand for low-carbon cement.

In a statement, Becker said that GHG emissions from cement production contribute about 8 million tons of carbon dioxide in California each year, and that the sector is the second-largest industrial source of GHG emissions in the state behind oil and gas.

“California is now the leader in driving decarbonization of the cement industry – a crucial material in the built environment, but one that accounts for 7% of all global greenhouse gas emissions and is one of the most challenging industries to decarbonize,” Becker said.