Continuing our Path towards Climate Neutrality

Ceramic Roadmap
TO 2050

Committed to the European Union’s climate ambition for 2030 and 2050

Ambitious goals

The European Union has set ambitious climate goals and shown global leadership in tackling climate change. With its overarching European Green Deal and legally binding European Climate Law, the EU has set the continent on a clear path to decarbonisation.

The European Climate Law legislates the goal set out in the European Green Deal for Europe’s economy and society to become climate-neutral by 2050. The law also sets the intermediate target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. The European Climate Law entered into force on 29 July 2021.

Climate neutrality by 2050 means achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for EU countries, mainly by cutting emissions, investing in green technologies and protecting the natural environment.

The ambition of the European ceramic industry

The European ceramic industry is both an energy-intensive industry and a manufacturer of products that will enable energy and carbon savings in other sectors. Our industry has been deeply rooted in the European economy for millennia and is committed to all three pillars of sustainable development, including environmental sustainability. We have therefore mapped a way forward to achieve Europe’s ambitious climate goals. However, our industry does not operate in isolation. We are part of an interconnected industrial value chain that includes many stakeholders and actors, both upstream and downstream. For the European ceramic industry to meet its goals, a confluence of conditions ranging from the decarbonisation of electricity to the availability of hydrogen and the development of new technologies will be needed.

Objectives of the
European Climate Law

  • Set the long-term approach for meeting the 2050 climate neutrality objective through all policies, in a socially fair and cost-efficient manner
  • Establish a more ambitious EU 2030 target, to set Europe on a responsible path to becoming climate-neutral by 2050
  • Create a system for monitoring progress and take further action if needed
  • Provide predictability for investors and other economic actors
  • Ensure that the transition to climate neutrality is irreversible

Our current emissions

Producing ceramics is an energy-intensive process. Total emissions from the European ceramic industry amount to 19 million tonnes of CO2 annually, which is roughly 1% of Europe’s total industrial emissions covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). On the other hand, being mostly composed of SMEs and small emitters, ceramic installations represent 10% of all industrial installations under the ETS.

Emissions linked to ceramics production can be broken down into three main categories:

  • Fuel combustion for drying and heating process.
  • Process emissions generated by mineralogical transformation of the clay.
  • Indirect emissions, mainly from electricity production.

Source: Cerame-unie

Share of emission sources in the ceramic industry in 2020

Source: Cerame-unie

Around 90% of emissions comes from three sectors: bricks and roof tiles, wall and floor tiles and refractories. The proportion between the different emission types varies significantly, depending on different processes, plants, products and raw materials (particularly for process emissions which represent 30% of total emissions in the bricks and roof tiles sector and can be as high as 60% of total emissions in the clay blocks sub-segment).

The way forward:
Our emissions reduction model


The European ceramic industry performed the most extensive data collection on CO2 and energy ever, updated and further developed its inventory of technologies from the first Ceramic Roadmap made in 2012, collected all assessments and expertise available at national level and drew conclusions in terms of what climate neutrality would mean for the ceramic industry: how it could be achieved, based on which technologies, which decarbonised fuels, how much of these fuels would be required, under which conditions and at what cost.

Past achievements

The European ceramic sector has reduced its total emissions by around 33% since 1990, and by more than 45% since its emissions and production peak in the years 2000s, mainly by optimising processes, making production more efficient and fuel substitution.

However, the most significant reduction in carbon emissions occurred in the 1980s when European ceramics almost entirely switched from solid fuel (mainly coal) to natural gas, the most carbon-efficient fossil fuel.

Emissions reduction model

Our emissions reduction model combines a range of measures to achieve a gradual reduction of emissions to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. These include:

  • A switch to renewable energy (green hydrogen, biofuels and decarbonised electricity).
  • A reduction in process emissions.
  • Innovation and increased efficiency in the manufacturing process.
  • CO2 capture CCS/CCU.
  • Other carbon removal technologies and offsetting measures.

The following chapter describes the projected measures in greater detail.

CO2 Reduction pathway

Source: Cerame-unie

The following table presents the main technologies deployable in the ceramic industry to contribute to climate-neutrality targets. It also shows how far advanced each technology is. Not all technologies may be applied to all sectors, and it is not yet clear how, and to what extent, they will be applied. Most of the technologies presented are future technologies or complete breakthroughs. For these technologies to develop and to be applied, several conditions are essential – in particular, the support of industry regulators. These conditions are further described in the policy recommendations section.

Assumptions & external conditions

The CO2 reduction model assumes that:

  • There is a constant level of production and a similar product mix between 2020 and 2050.
  • The real emissions for the year 2019 were taken as a basis for the estimations, as 2019 was a more representative year in terms of production levels (due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the year 2020 was not a representative year, as the emissions were exceptionally low during this period).
  • Zero-emissions technologies, especially for the firing processes, will be available in a relatively short term, so as to allow the progressive renewal of assets, whose operational lifetime often exceeds 20 to
    30 years.
  • All barriers regarding the availability of alternative fuels (such as green hydrogen or biogas) are overcome, and that these fuels are made available in sufficient amounts and with a competitive price throughout Europe.
  • Obstacles for the technical application and availability of alternative fuels will progressively be removed from 2030 and would allow the industry to move to breakthrough solutions, such as hydrogen, biogas or electricity in equal proportions.
  • A gradual decarbonisation of the power supply throughout Europe.
  • Gradual availability and acceptance of CCUS.

Switching to renewable energy

More than four fifths of our industry’s emissions come directly from energy use. A switch to renewable energy, whether renewable electricity, green hydrogen, green synthetic gas or biofuels, will drastically reduce emissions. Our roadmap is based on a gradual decarbonisation of the power supply and an increased availability of green hydrogen, green synthetic gas and biofuels.

Depending on the type of plant and local availability options, some plants could switch to decarbonised electricity whilst others could eventually use biofuels, green hydrogen, or green synthetic gas. Since kilns can be used for more than 40 years and a switch of fuel type represents a major capital investment (except for a switch to biogas for plants that currently use natural gas), the choice of energy type and the availability of a regular and affordable fuel supply are necessary and vital.

In parallel, the industry is committed to continued improvements in the energy efficiency of installations, to reduce overall energy demand. This includes the increased use of recycled material, the adoption of best available technologies and best available management practices, and the embrace of new technologies.

Available technologies and management practices include the installation of improved kilns, dryers, thermostats and seals as well as implementing automated controls. Heat savings can also be achieved by improving thermal insulation through the use of novel refractory linings, coatings and other ceramic materials.

Recovery of excess heat is also an important way to reduce fuel consumption. This can be done by capturing kiln gases to preheat the combustion or dryer. Smart design of manufacturing facilities is also a key factor because the physical distance between the different processes, such as firing and drying, can lead to energy savings.

Under this vision of a climate-neutral industry, in 2050 the European ceramic industry would have a projected energy need of around 140,000 terajoules. This would be one third less than in 2020, thanks to improvements in energy efficiency.

Measures contributing to the Reduction of Emissions from Fossil Fuel Combustion

Source: Cerame-unie

Biogas and green synthetic gas technologies are already available, with varying levels of penetration in different Member States, and the technology can be scaled up. We have therefore included them in a larger proportion in the energy mix anticipated for 2030. Available volumes are expected to rise until 2040 and 2050, but compared to hydrogen and electrification, biogas and green synthetic gas will play a smaller role.

Until 2030, we expect only small quantities of green hydrogen to be available for the ceramic industry due to demand from other sectors such as freight transport, pricing issues and a lack of infrastructure throughout Europe. We have assumed increased availability of green hydrogen from 2040.

The model also includes the electrification of one third of the ceramic manufacturing process.

Process emissions

Some emissions related to the production of ceramics are called process emissions. These are caused by the chemical decarbonation of carbonates in raw materials such as limestone or dolomite during sintering. In 2019, these emissions amounted to 3.34 Mt CO2.

The amount of process emissions from clays differs, depending on the composition of the minerals and the local geology. The use of locally available raw materials avoids long-distance transportation, reduces CO2 emissions and allows for local job creation. It would therefore not be environmentally sound to relocate factories and jobs to reduce process emissions.

Measures contributing to the reduction of process related emissions

Source: Cerame-unie

As we approach 2050, some process emissions will have to be removed by using carbon removal technologies and offsetting measures. These measures could include the use of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Carbon Capture and Use (CCU).
Until cost-effective breakthrough CCS technology is developed on an appropriate scale for the ceramic sector, the installation of CCS is likely to remain prohibitively expensive for some time after its installation in some energy-intensive sectors. In addition, in some countries, CCS is ‘forbidden by law’.

The geographical dispersal and varying scale of ceramic plants – compared to, for example, those in the steel and cement sectors – as well as the nature of the exhaust fumes from ceramics manufacturing, makes it unlikely that the whole ceramic industry will pioneer CCUS, although it may be interesting in the mid to-long term for some subsectors.

Annual alternative energy needs

The table below presents the annual alternative energy needs of the ceramic industry to achieve the carbon neutrality target by 2050. In fact, the industry will need nearly 50,000 terajoules each of green hydrogen, biogas and green electricity by 2050. These amounts are not available to industry currently, and their supply does not depend on industry itself but on many factors, such as infrastructure and the right legal and policy framework.

Table of Alternative energy needs derived from emissions reductions

Source: Cerame-unie

Development of annual abatement costs

The main question that the industry asks itself is the question of costs. How much will the transition to carbon neutrality cost? According to our model, we estimate that the annual costs to reach carbon neutrality will grow sharply in time. Taking into account the assumptions used for the purpose of this roadmap and detailed assessments made at national level, the ceramic industry considers that by 2030, the annual decarbonisation costs will exceed €500 million. The annual costs will progressively grow to nearly
1 bn EUR per year in 2040 and will exceed 1.2 bn per year in 2050. Consequently, many preconditions need to be met to enable this type of investments in our industry. The total cumulated abatement costs until 2050 are estimated at around 27 bn EUR.

be achieved by the industry alone. Indeed, the achievement of such objectives depends to a great extent on external factors on which the industry has no influence: an appropriate regulatory framework ensuring a fair level playing field, access to finance, new technologies and decarbonised energy source.

Various conditions, some of which are outside the ceramic industry’s reach and control, must be in place. Legislators and regulators must ensure an investment-friendly framework, and that the risks connected with carbon leakage, which is defined as industry relocating to countries with less stringent climate laws, are mitigated. The current system of free allowances up to a benchmark level is ensuring a minimum level of protection, provided that the carbon price does not disproportionately increase as a result of speculation of economic actors outside the EU ETS, and should be maintained as long as necessary.

For this purpose, benchmarks should be fair and not penalise heterogeneous sectors such as ceramics by ensuring that the benchmark reflects the real energy mix evolution in the sector (e.g. reconsider the role that a few biomass installations, sustainable or not, have on ETS benchmarks). In general, policy constancy in relation to unsustainable uses of biomass should be ensured throughout all EU climate and energy legislation.

It is also vital for the ceramic industry that carbon leakage measures maintain our competitiveness in export markets, considering that ceramic sectors export up to 40% of their production outside the EU.

Moreover, the regulators must enable the development of breakthrough technologies, not only by setting up the right legal framework but also with targeted financial and other incentives.

The development of relevant infrastructure must also be enabled across Europe – especially the support of technology shifts linked to changes of fuel source in ceramic plants. With more than 1,200 installations across all EU countries, the security of energy supply is a priority for the ceramic industry.

Ceramics, as an energy-intensive industry, needs a constant supply of quality fuel (whether green hydrogen, syngas, biomass or natural gas) to ensure uninterrupted production processes. Any unplanned interruption can lead to severe damage to kilns that work 24 hours a day, seven days
a week.

Another aspect to unlock the necessary transformation is the question of the affordability of alternative energy sources. For example, electrification of kilns is currently considered in most ceramic sectors as economically unsound. This is due to the much higher cost of electricity compared to natural gas, and also due to the lack of incentives to move towards electric firing (for example as a result of the ceramic industry’s ineligibility for indirect cost compensations related to electricity under the ETS State Aid Guidelines). Access to green electricity is key for the green transition of our industry, and we rely on the supply, which also depends on the needed infrastructure.

To summarise, we need support to reach our goal, but the necessary conditions are not in the hands of the industry itself. Many obstacles remain in legislative, financial and technological frameworks. We believe that these obstacles can be overcome step-by-step to create a framework that enables the industry to fully decarbonise and reach our net-zero target by 2050.

Annual costs (in EUR mio.)

Source: Cerame-unie

Policy recommendations

In order to successfully engage on this path towards climate neutrality, the ceramic industry will need:

Continued and sufficient carbon leakage protection

  • Fair performance benchmarks representative of the sector-specific energy mix evolution, not penalising heterogeneous sectors and SMEs.
  • Full consistency in the treatment of unsustainable use of biomass across the whole climate and energy legislative arsenal. All unjustified effect of biomass installations on the ETS benchmarks must be avoided.
  • Carbon leakage protection measures should allow EU producers to remain competitive in export markets.

A stable, reliable legal framework

Investments in new kilns and machinery in ceramic processes are made for a period well beyond 20 years. Such long term investments can only be made if the regulatory framework offers sufficient stability and predictability.

Sufficient financial support

Sufficient financial support both for research and innovation and for investments (CAPEX) and to mitigate higher running operational costs (OPEX). The industry should also have access to Carbon Contracts for Difference.

Secure infrastructure and a stable supply of green energy

The appropriate transportation, storage and distribution infrastructure in green energy (electricity, green H2, biogas or syngas) to ensure stable supply at a reasonable and competitive price.

Energy at a competitive price and better mechanisms to cope with energy crisis

Ensuring access to affordable energy prices, in particular in the context of energy crisis, by preventing and investigating possible anti-competitive behaviour in the energy market, promoting common energy purchase and energy stocks in the EU, and studying the functioning of the gas and electricity markets to improve the internal energy market in the mid- and long-term. Most importantly, instruments should be put into place so that appropriate financial and fiscal support or compensation can be activated on a short-term basis as soon as an energy crisis occurs.

Equal access to green energy

The EU should firmly establish and enforce a principle of sector neutrality for all decarbonised energy sources. Equal access to hydrogen and other green energy sources should be guaranteed for all end-users.

Facilitate permitting process

Rapid, stable and straightforward permit processes for green investments (in the energy sector as well as in industry), and a consequent reduction in bureaucracy, particularly for SME sectors.

Full access to finance

Sustainable finance should be accessible to all sectors in the process of implementing their environmental and energy transition, including heterogeneous industries and SME sectors. Moreover, EU funding policy should be material-and technology-neutral.

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