Article – Donal O’Riain, Founder and MD of Ecocem – “Best Irish Company in France 2023”

Donal O’Riain is Founder and Managing Director of Ecocem, low-carbon cement solution providers who have operated for over 20 years.


What was your first job?

My career began as an engineer with ESB (Electrical Supply Board), an experience that ingrained in me the value of having the freedom to innovate which is rarely available in large corporates, so this remains a guiding principle for me.

What pushed you to pursue a career in this field?

It was while working as a consultant in the cement industry that I developed a real interest in reducing the industry’s carbon footprint. Following this passion I founded Ecocem. I was and remain motivated by a combination of genuine interest in the work and a profound sense of purpose – fuelled by the desire to make a tangible difference to our industry and the world.

What would you regard as your greatest achievement to date ?

Everything I’ve done in the last twenty years has been driven by the ambition to reduce the carbon impact of this industry. After water, concrete is the most used substance on earth. This cost effective, flexible and safe, construction material has a fatal flaw in that it produces over 7% of all global CO2 emissions. Cement, the critical ingredient in concrete, is responsible for 94% of its emissions.

My greatest achievement is yet to come. The cement industry has a massive opportunity to be a hero amongst hard to abate industries by adopting low carbon cement technologies that can halve its emission cost effectively within a decade. I want to see Ecocem fulfil its potential to drive rapid and low-cost decarbonisation of the global cement industry within the decade.

Career-wise, would you do anything differently?

I have no regrets. Setbacks are part and parcel of life and any efforts to innovate and do something worthwhile will have more than their fair share. The key thing is to learn from them.

In one sentence, how would you define success?

Doing important things you enjoy with people you admire.

What is the best advice you have been given?

Always prepare thoroughly. Even if it’s not particularly useful on the day, the process provides a well of confidence and when you need to think on your feet, you start ahead of the rest. You will be pleasantly surprised by the advantage gained, as most people prepare badly and have to settle for less than they should.

How do you motivate yourself and your staff?

Good people can get well-paid jobs elsewhere. Our formula is to give people the opportunity to be part of something meaningful, and work in a community of equality of esteem.

How do you handle adversity?

The best strategy by far is to avoid adversity as much as possible. That means careful, patient analysis, understanding and insight before making significant change of ambition or direction. Make your mistakes on paper, not in the real world. And when, inevitably, you run into full-on adversity, analyse and understand it, and look for alternative strategies that allow you to progress in other ways. Very few encounters with adversity are terminal, it’s generally how you deal with it that matters.

How do you relax?

Outside of work, I enjoy exploring Paris with my family, playing tennis and cycling. In the last year I’ve also started learning Spanish.

What are your aspirations for the future of your business?

My ambition for Ecocem is to be the driver and catalyst for rapid and low cost decarbonisation of the global cement sector. The industry is currently on a trajectory in line with a catastrophic 3.5°C of global warming and has neither the cash nor the technology for the radical, necessary course correction required. Our technology can eliminate 70% of these emissions swiftly and economically. We can achieve a 50% reduction in CO2 by 2030, making the cement industry the first major industrial sector to decarbonise in line with the 1.5°C decarbonisation target of the Paris Accord.

We will make this technology available to the industry from 2024 with a target of full commercialisation in the EU by 2026.

It’s an exciting and challenging time for the Ecocem team. We’ve prepared well and we have the skills and motivation to succeed. We continue to see growing, worldwide interest in this technology. But we cannot do this alone. In all sectors, collaboration is critical to accelerating innovation and adoption. We need the industry, policy makers and regulators to get onboard to deliver radical reductions at speed.

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