As Comal County continues to grow at a record-setting pace, new businesses, homes, restaurants and offices continue to go up throughout the region.
As different as these developments are, many of them have one thing in common — their cement comes from CEMEX.
About 35% to 40% of the concrete made at CEMEX’s Comal County cement plant stays in the area, and about 90% of it stays in the state, said Jim May, production and design coordinator for the Balcones plant, CEMEX division.
As the area and state grow, this is helping New Braunfels keep money local and reduce truck pollution by keeping more loads in the area, May said.
“We employ about 128 employees at our cement plant,” May said.
By creating local jobs and bringing in revenue from all over the state to the area, CEMEX benefits the local economy, said David Perkins, president and CEO of Texas Aggregates & Concrete Association.
The other 60% to 65% made at the Comal County plant is shipped out to Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, as the “Texas triangle” — the corridors between Texas’ four major cities of San Antonio, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston — continues to rapidly develop, May said.
The need for cement
Although CEMEX’s Balcones Quarry celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018, the neighboring land for the CEMEX cement plant off of Wald Road in New Braunfels was acquired in 1994.
To support new and existing infrastructure, Texas consumes approximately 0.6 tons in cement annually per capita, according to TACA.
It’s important everyone tries to understand the importance of aggregates and cement and the need for them, said Janet Krolcyzk, director of environmental for CEMEX’s Texas region.
“Aggregates are everywhere — there are rocks everywhere,” Krolcyzk said. “When you brush your teeth in the morning, there’s aggregates in your toothpaste. When you drive on roads, those are made with aggregates.”
A residential home on average requires 100 yards of cement, a mile of a six-lane highway uses about 15,000 yards of cement, a hospital about 30,000 yards and a high school football stadium about 100,000 yards.
By 2050, Texas is estimated to need 7.5-11 million more tons of cement, according to TACA data.
“Texas is one of the fastest growing states in the nation,” said Lance Griffin, director of aggregates operations for CEMEX’s Texas region. “On average, each person equals the need for nine to 11 tons of stone per year.”
The cement plant runs 365 days a year, 24/7, Griffin said.
“We go above and beyond requirements to make sure we are protecting the environment,” Krolcyzk said. “For example, we’re only required to double-contain oil, but we triple-contain it.”
Folks often ask why a quarry has to be “in my backyard,” Krolcyzk said.
“Only certain areas have limestone or the type of rocks that are best for use,” Krolcyzk said. “By using local material, we’re actually saving everyone locally money — resources don’t have to be imported in.”
CEMEX wants to be transparent with its efforts and welcomes questions, Krolcyzk said.
“We feel comfortable giving that access to folks who want to ask questions,” she said.
The cement process starts after aggregate has already been mined, crushed and washed at the quarry. CEMEX has helped innovate the modern process for producing cement, May said.
Driving into the cement plant area, a large 18-wheeler’s box trailer is lifted into what looks like a large garbage compactor. Out of its open tilted doors falls a spillage of black car tires.
“It starts here, with the tires,” May said. “Tires are burned as fuel. Since tires never deteriorate naturally, this is an amazing form of recycling.”
Cement production is the highest recycler of non-reusables, Perkins said.
Tires at the New Braunfels CEMEX cement plant mostly come from Austin and San Antonio areas, May explained. Many of them are worn tires that come from local auto shops once they’re no longer safe for driving on. They are then shot into an incinerator from 80 to 90 feet away.
“The tires are incinerated at 2,200 to 2,300 degrees (Fahrenheit),” May said. “That’s such an intense heat, there’s no smoke or chemical waste, so there’s not even a smell — they’re just instantly reduced.”
Aggregate is then turned into “clinker,” which is produced in kilns that get up to about 2,500 degrees, May said. The fuel burned from the incinerated tires keeps CEMEX’s two cement kilns running hot.
“Clinker is made of up of a specific ratio of calcium, aluminum, copper and silica,” May said. “While in the kilns, a chemical reaction happens. “The kilns are on a slight angle — just 3 degrees, so they move slowly through the rotating kilns and down toward the cooling area.”
Over the next 25 minutes, the aggregate is heated to a lava-like state, which is then rapidly cooled by air to form clinker, May said.
Clinker is then ground while additives such as gypsum are added to achieve a desired property of cement, May said.
“Here we produce type I, II, low alkaline cement,” May said.
These are the most general types of cement, used for general construction such as paving roads, building bridges, in most buildings and for precast units.
Once cement is complete, it is shipped out via the railroad or on trucks to its final destination, May said.
“The whole thing is watched by four engineers in the control room who watch the process on cameras throughout the automated system,” May said.