In a modern works, the blended raw material enters the kiln via the pre-heater tower. Here, hot gases from the kiln, and probably the cooled clinker at the far end of the kiln, are used to heat the raw meal. As a result, the raw meal is already hot before it enters the kiln.
The dry process is much more thermally efficient than the wet process.
Firstly, and most obviously, this is because the meal is a dry powder and there is little or no water that has to be evaporated.
Secondly, and less obviously, the process of transferring heat is much more efficient in a dry process kiln.
An integral part of the process is a heat exchanger called a 'suspension preheater'. This is a tower with a series of cyclones in which fast-moving hot gases keep the meal powder suspended in air. All the time, the meal gets hotter and the gas gets cooler until the meal is at almost the same temperature as the gas.
The basic dry process system consists of the kiln and a suspension preheater. The raw materials, limestone and shale for example, are ground finely and blended to produce the raw meal. The raw meal is fed in at the top of the preheater tower and passes through the series of cyclones in the tower. Hot gas from the kiln and, often, hot air from the clinker cooler are blown through the cyclones. Heat is transferred efficiently from the hot gases to the raw meal.
The heating process is efficient because the meal particles have a very high surface area in relation to their size and because of the large difference in temperature between the hot gas and the cooler meal. Typically, 30%-40% of the meal is decarbonated before entering the kiln.
A development of this process is the 'precalciner' kiln. Most new cement plant is of this type. The principle is similar to that of the dry process preheater system but with the major addition of another burner, or precalciner. With the additional heat, about 85%-95% of the meal is decarbonated before it enters the kiln
Basic principle of a precalciner cement kiln.
Since meal enters the kiln at about 900 C, (compared with about 20 C in the wet process), the kiln can be shorter and of smaller diameter for the same output. This reduces the capital costs of a new cement plant. A dry process kiln might be only 70m long and 6m wide but produce a similar quantity of clinker (usually measured in tonnes per day) as a wet process kiln of the same diameter but 200m in length. For the same output, a dry process kiln without a precalciner would be shorter than a wet process kiln but longer than a dry process kiln with a precalciner.