South Asia on the clean brick road

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Courtesy of SciDev.Net

South Asia's brick sector needs to retrofit its existing kilns with cleaner and more efficient technology, a recent (May 9—10) workshop in Kathmandu heard.

Organised by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, Mexico's National Institute of Ecology, and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal, the workshop was attended by entrepreneurs from Latin America, Africa and Asia.

South Asia produces over 250 billion bricks annually compared to China's production of one trillion bricks. But South Asia's outdated clamp kilns, moveable bull trench kilns and fixed chimney kilns are inefficient, polluting and labour-unfriendly.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, brick-making is the second largest industrial consumer of coal in India and accounts for nine per cent of industrial black carbon emissions that have been traced to global warming.

South Asia's 'brick industry is where it was in the 1800s,' said Gilbert Habla, managing director of the Melbourne-based Habla Kilns which has signed an agreement with the Nepalese company MinEnergy to build the first Habla 'zig-zag kiln' in a developing country.

Retrofitting with Habla kilns is seen as a first step in South Asia's climb up the technology ladder. Doing so could result in a 20 per cent drop in coal consumption, three-quarter reduction in black carbon emissions, and profit-doubling, according to a 2013 study by the India-based Greentech Knowledge Solutions.

Introduction of advanced, highly-mechanised technologies — like the hybrid Hoffman kilns in Bangladesh — have proven messy because of a lack of technical knowhow among entrepreneurs, says Bhishma Pandit, energy efficiency expert at the consultant group INTEGRATION GmbH.

'Extension services through which you can deliver the technology are almost non-existent in the entire South Asian region, and there are no training facilities,' said Sameer Maithel, director at Greentech. 'Engaging policymakers remains a big issue.'

Without limits on emissions and proper working conditions, entrepreneurs have little incentive to change, which could mean that plans to retrofit older kilns will fail, says Pandit.

'If a brick entrepreneur can make 40,000 bricks with US$ 11,400 as investment and no one is stopping him, he will not invest US$ 114,000 to produce the same number of bricks,' Pandit said.

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