Understand Global Cement Trade: 101 Guide

As long as there are buildings to be made, roads to be constructed, and bridges to be built, the need for cement will always be there. If past trends are any indication, the demand for cement will only increase further. Suffice to say, this is one industry whose future is sure and secure.

What Is Cement?

Cement is a dry powder-like substance that binds other materials together by acting as glue. Most people tend to confuse cement with concrete or mortar, but the truth is that it is very different. 

Why Is Cement Important?

Concrete and mortar are the core materials required for any construction. Unfortunately, on their own, both are not of any good use. It is because they lack binding properties. Cement helps overcome this limitation as it has adhesive-like qualities. Therefore, it is a vital component of concrete and mortar which gives shape and strength to every structure. 

Raw Materials Used For Making Cement

The raw materials required to make cement are limestone, chalk or marl, and shells. These are combined with slate, shale, slag, clay, iron ore, and silica sand. Together these ingredients are heated at very high temperatures to form a hard rock-like substance that is crushed to almost a fine powder. This powder is the cement.

Leading Cement Producing Countries

1. China
2. India
3. Vietnam

China is the leader in cement production globally. It produces more than half of the world’s cement, approximately 2.5 billion metric tons annually. In the second position is India. It has an estimated annual production of around 330 million metric tons, followed by Vietnam at roughly 100 million metric tons. 

Top Cement Companies In The World

1. CNBM
2. Anhui Conch Cement
3. LafargeHolcim

The first and second pedestals are taken by two Chinese firms, namely CNBM (China National Building Material Limited) and Anhui Conch Cement, respectively. In the third position is LafargeHolcim, a Swiss-French cement company.

Top Cement Exporters

1. Vietnam
2. Turkey
3. Thailand

In 2020, almost four-tenths of the global shipments of cement were through the top 5 cement exporters, namely Vietnam, Turkey, Thailand, Germany, and Canada. Vietnam’s share was 12.5% of total cement exports. Turkey followed closely at 11.3%, followed by Thailand, Germany, and Canada, accounting for 5.1%, 4.7%, and 4.7% of total cement exports.

Top Cement Importers

1. China
2. USA
3. Philippines

Speaking in terms of dollar value, the top 5 countries to buy 37.3% of the total cement from the international markets were China (13.6% of total cement imports), the USA (12.8% of total cement imports), the Philippines (4.3% of total cement imports), France (3.8% of total cement imports), and Netherland (2.8% of total cement imports). 

The coal shortage in China has forced it to meet its demand for cement to power the developmental activities through imports.

From a continental perspective, Asian countries were the leaders in the import pack, with cement purchases worth $4.3 billion (nearly 39% of the global cement import). Europe came second at 25%, and North America third, with 14.1%.

The Past

In the beginning, the development of the cement industry was painfully slow and highly erratic. People were still not completely aware of its uses and true potential. However, by the late 1700s to early 1800s, things started changing. Hydraulic cement originates from ancient Greece and Rome, where they mixed volcanic ash and lime with water to form a hard mass. This formed the basis of the cementing material for the Roman mortar and concrete.

Volcanic ash mined near the city of Pozzuoli, Italy, was found to be rich in aluminosilicate minerals. This formed the classic Pozzolana cement. Even today, the term “Pozzolana” refers to aluminosilicate that reacts with lime in water to form cement.

Portland cement is modern-day cement. It was developed in 1756 by John Smeaton when he was called upon to rebuild the Eddystone Lighthouse on the English Channel. He systematically researched the properties of lime from various regions of the UK with the aim being to understand their resistance to water. According to Smeaton, he had discovered a cement that was at par with the best quality of Portland stone in solidity, looks, and durability, and hence, the name Portland cement stuck.

The Present

The cement industry has come a long way since the old days of sluggish production and demand. Today, no construction can be complete without this crucial material. Be it the construction of a road, dam, pavement, or facade of a building, giving a facelift to an old structure, or adding to its aesthetic beauty, cement has let its presence be known everywhere.

Since the early 1900s, there has been a steep increase in the demand for cement. It is mainly because of the population growth, rapid urbanization, and developmental activities undertaken worldwide. The beginning of the 20th century was to have marked a further increase in its demand, but the economic crisis followed by the COVID 19 pandemic worsened the situation. 

Nevertheless, things have started looking up once again. The demand for cement is rising again as nations are working towards reviving their economies. New employment opportunities mean new workplaces, and more infrastructure, which, in turn, means even more construction. Therefore, it is time for the cynics to take a backseat.

The Future

The demand for cement will increase further, fueled by rising disposable incomes and expanding urbanization. The future will bring in a few changes, most of which will meet the surging demand for green cement. The challenges will come from ever-increasing and more stringent government regulations for controlling carbon emissions from the cement production plants and looking for alternative fuel sources.

To Conclude

A growing civil engineering sector, technical advancements in the cement manufacturing process, and its surging demand point toward a bright future for the cement industry. Today, there is a market for every type of cement – blended, portland, composite, quick setting, etc. None of them show any hint of slowing down. As mentioned in the very beginning, the future of the cement industry is secure. The surety of this knowledge comes from the fact that its demand has been climbing continuously despite all adversities.