Low-tech cement factories cause burden to energy supply

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Following the closure of several cement factories due to recent coal shortage, officials have blamed industry leaders for relying on obsolete and inefficient technology.

Le Minh Chuan, Deputy General Director of Vietnam Coal and Mineral Industries Group, also known as Vinacomin, said most cement factories in Vietnam are fueled by the fine coal dust that requires more fuel.

Cement factories in China and many countries use larger kinds of coal dust.

"We're only capable of raising our production by around 5 percent a year while the coal demand for cement factories has gone up 34 percent," Chuan said.

Le Van Chung, an official from Vietnam Cement Industry Corporation, also known as Vicem, charged that Vinacomin has only managed to supply half of the coal dust required to run Vicem factories--around 5,000 tons every day.

"If the situation doesn't improve in a couple days, many of our cement factories will have to suspend operations," Chung said.

But Chuan said smaller coal dust is getting rare, thus the supply shortage will definitely continue unless the technologies are upgraded and cement factories.

The Ministry of Construction said it will call for a moritorium on licensing new cement projects to relieve the pressure the industry is exerting on other infrastructure sectors, especially power, according to a statement posted Monday on the government website.

It asked the Prime Minister to delay investment in 13 new cement plants. The ministry has charged that there is no real demand for more cement, nor is there adequate funding to build the plants.

Vo Quang Diem, Deputy Head of the Ministry's Construction Materials Department, said cement producers consume more electricity than any other division of the construction material industry.

Diem estimated that factories expend 90-95 million kWh during the production of one million tons of cement.

He said many of the new cement projects apply old technologies that not only consume a lot of power but do significant harm to the environment. The number of those factories will increase quickly if the government doesn't tighten control, Diem said.

Estimates from Vicem showed that the production of a ton of cement emits a ton of carbon dioxide (CO2). Vicem said a technology upgrade could halve harmful emissions.

Diem said that factories must be forced to recycle the heat generated from gas emission as fuel. That would cut about 30 percent of the energy expended during the production process, he said.

Nguyen Trung Hoa, Deputy Head of the Science and Technology Department under the Ministry, said the upgrades will cost each cement firm hundreds of millions of dollars, so the firms need to benefit from low-interest loans.

By the end of 2009, Vietnam had brought 97 cement plants online. The facilities produced 57.4 million tons a year, enough for domestic demand, the officials estimated.

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