The cement industry and infrastructure go hand in hand.
Revitalization of U.S. infrastructure hinges on something obvious but rarely discussed, even among policymakers weighing historic plans to rebuild the nation’s highways, bridges and waterways. That “stealth factor” is U.S.-made cement.
Because of the wide use of concrete in infrastructure down through the ages — from the Pantheon in Rome to the skyscrapers of New York to the ribbons of highway traversing the nation — cement, the essential component of concrete, has become the secret and often overlooked ingredient to civilization’s success.
President Trump has consistently highlighted the critical need for new infrastructure. “Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways, gleaming across our very, very beautiful land,” he said in his first address to Congress.
But infrastructure revitalization simply will not happen without sufficient quantities of U.S. cement. As a centerpiece policy proposed by the new administration and talked about in the halls of Congress, federal investments in infrastructure will rely upon it.
A new examination of U.S. cement manufacturing has concluded that the country has sufficient capacity to produce the most advanced and modern cement needed for what the administration and Congress hope will be a sweeping program that revitalizes the nation’s infrastructure.
The report by the nation’s major cement manufacturers takes into account a plethora of infrastructure projects discussed in Washington — including those aimed at restoring the nation’s highways, waterways, pipelines, runways and even a potential border wall with Mexico.
“The U.S. cement industry has more than enough supply potential to feed even the most optimistic infrastructure spending program,” said the analysis by the organization I represent. “The U.S. cement industry’s capacity utilization rate is improving but remains well below its potential maximum level.”
Constructing a wall along the border with Mexico would hardly put a dent in U.S. cement capacity. “Total cement consumption attributed to the construction of a wall would represent only a fraction of total U.S. cement consumption,” the report found. And along the Border States, cement manufacturing capacity rates are low “and may offer significant opportunity to supply wall material requirements.”
The analysis puts a firm stake in the ground for the industry that quite literally will underpin much, if not all, of the major infrastructure projects under consideration. And it also highlights the importance of an industry that often flies under the radar.
Today, the U.S. cement industry is operating at roughly 79 percent of full production capacity, which is estimated at 108 million metric tons per year. U.S. cement manufacturers are adding even more production capacity each year: 1.3 million metric tons in 2016 alone, and an additional 1.6 million metric tons planned by 2018. Adding in its import-export capacity, the U.S. cement industry can supply more than 150 million metric tons of cement each year to the U.S. market.
The U.S. cement industry has an extensive presence across the country, with more than 90 manufacturing plants in 32 states, distribution facilities in every state, and annual shipments valued at $9 billion.
In terms of specific infrastructure priorities, America’s cement producers believe they can help expand oil, gas and other pipeline development to supply low-cost domestic energy, boost the economy and provide jobs, while conserving natural resources. Cement makers also back new coastal infrastructure to protect against natural disasters. And, of course, we need to rebuild our roads and bridges.
American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave U.S. infrastructure a near-failing grade of “D+.” U.S. cement companies are eager to reverse this decline. They have made major investments to increase capacity, productivity and energy efficiency. Those investments and innovations will pay off as the nation’s cement manufacturers are called upon to support the infrastructure revival America so desperately needs.