Greener BeeGreen ElectronicsFrom gritty to green: Roanoke Cement earns 11th straight award from the EPA

Chris Bayne recalled the days when car-obsessed teenage peers avoided cruising by Roanoke Cement because the plant’s environs could be dustier than the Oklahoma Panhandle in the 1930s.

Conditions improved along Catawba Road after Titan Cement acquired from Tarmac America a majority interest in the Botetourt County plant in 1992, said Bayne, the corporate energy manager at Titan America. Based in Greece, Titan Cement, the parent company of Titan America, became the plant’s sole owner in the fall of 2000.

Titan and Roanoke Cement have continued to work to lessen the site’s environmental footprint by controlling dust, reducing emissions and focusing on saving energy during the gritty, heat-intensive manufacture of cement — a key component of concrete. The plant also initiated a host of measures in recent years to improve the stream-side habitat and water quality of Catawba Creek.

Recently, Roanoke Cement learned it had won from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency an 11th straight Energy Star award. The award recognizes companies for efforts to conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Those efforts have included a deal with Ikea to use sawdust from the Swedish furniture company’s Danville manufacturing plant as an alternative fuel to help fire Roanoke Cement’s kiln, for which the key fuel is coal. Temperatures inside cement kilns can reach about 3,200 degrees.

Regional environmental activist Diana Christopulos praised Roanoke Cement’s endeavors to run a sustainable, “green” operation. Christopulos is president of the Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition and Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club and a member of the Roanoke Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“Roanoke Cement has an enduring and successful commitment to reducing their energy consumption and their greenhouse gas emissions, and they continue to deliver on it,” Christopulos said in an email.

“They have been generous in helping other organizations, including local governments, in measuring their greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “They have also been a great neighbor to the Appalachian Trail, providing the easement for the Andy Layne Trail that provides access to Tinker Cliffs.”

A full evaluation by the state Department of Environmental Quality in August 2016 found Roanoke Cement in compliance with relevant state and federal regulations. There’s been no enforcement action taken against Roanoke Cement since 2006, when the company forgot to monitor for temperature and a few other measures in performing stack testing to demonstrate compliance with federal standards, according to DEQ.

Capturing heat

The Roanoke Cement plant, its adjacent quarry and the Catawba Creek agricultural property the company nurtured in recent years sprawl across about 2,500 acres. The facility typically produces about 3,000 tons of cement a day and employs 177 people. It was Botetourt County’s largest taxpayer in the fiscal year ended June 30, ranking ahead of Appalachian Power, which operates a major substation in Cloverdale; Dynax America; Metalsa; and New River Electrical.

It is Virginia’s only Portland cement plant, a reality that reflects Roanoke Cement’s proximity to the right type of limestone. Why is it called “Portland” cement? According to the Portland Cement Association, a British stone mason obtained in 1824 a patent for a cement he produced in his kitchen that he thought “resembled a stone quarried on the Isle of Portland off the British coast.”

The raw materials for cement-making at the Botetourt County plant include limestone from its quarry, sand from Craig County, flyash and synthetic gypsum from coal-fired power plants and slag from Steel Dynamics’ Roanoke Bar Division steel mill.

Lance Clark, Roanoke Cement’s environmental manager, said the plant has examined converting the primary fuel for its kiln from coal to natural gas, but that option is not yet economically viable.

Meanwhile, a heat-exchange tower captures heat from the kiln and re-directs it to pre-heat raw materials before they enter the kiln. The plants newest “bag house” is equipped with 2,600 bags that help filter “particulate matter” — a collective term for fine particles within dust, smoke, soot and other materials that can emerge from industrial processes. Material captured by the bags is cycled back into the cement-making process.

The manufacture of Portland cement also can yield nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Clark said Roanoke Cement monitors its emissions closely, minute by minute, and abides by guidelines set by the EPA and other regulators.

“We know what’s leaving that stack at all times,” he said.

Chopping block?

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate the EPA’s Energy Star program and several other voluntary partnership programs related to energy and climate change. The Energy Star program sets energy efficiency standards for electronics and appliances and houses and buildings.

Trump’s budget suggests the program is outside the EPA’s core mission and could be run by the private sector.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, opposes the cut.

“Energy Star is a voluntary label — essentially an FYI that a TV or dishwasher or air conditioner is energy-efficient — that helps people know which devices save energy, which can save them money in the long run,” Kaine said in an email.

“No one is required to buy Energy Star-certified appliances, but millions choose to, and it’s disappointing that President Trump wants to eliminate a program that saves Virginians money, benefits American companies like Roanoke Cement and is good for the environment,” he said.

Roanoke Cement harvests neither tax breaks nor other financial rewards from the Energy Star designation. In fact, the company had to purchase its plaque from the EPA.

Yet Zaklina Stamboliska, a native of Macedonia who became manager of the Botetourt County plant two years ago, said Titan Cement values the recognition, which has become an annual event.

“They told me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t lose it,’ ” she said.

Bayne said participation in the Energy Star program has provided important access to industry mentors and information shared by other cement companies about best practices. He said yearly audits from the program assess the health of Roanoke Cement’s energy management program.

Clark and Stamboliska said messages from Titan Cement have been clear and consistent: The Roanoke Cement plant should remain focused on energy conservation and reduction of greenhouse gases no matter what direction debate about climate change takes in Washington, D.C.

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