Brick is one of the most traditional and most common building materials in Nepal. It is not known exactly from when bricks have been produced and used as building material in Nepal. Bricks are found in the remnants excavated at the Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini, which is venerated as the birthplace of Gautam Buddha and is considered 2600 years or more. More such old bricks were found in some other historically important places related to Buddha’s period.
Moreover, bricks are one of the contributing factors to Nepal’s rich traditional architecture. Beauty of brick exposures in old buildings, temples and public properties can be experienced in the Kathmandu valley and other old cities and settlements. Likewise, brick exposing in the exterior of new buildings are preferred in the modern constructions. That trend is in increasing.
Brick kilns are seasonally operated in dry season (from November to May) and is considered as an informal sector.
Despite producing one of the most preferred building materials, brick kilns are known for their negative impacts on environment. Particulate matter (PM), black carbon (BC), sulphur di-oxide (SO2) and carbon di-oxide (CO2) are some of the most common emissions credited to brick kiln.
Brick production is also one of the major sources for BC and other short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) emissions impacting both human health and climate change. Studies showed that 10-50% reduction of pollutants emissions could be achieved by improving the firing process.
The inefficient technologies and excessive use of coal are one of the primary reasons for high emissions from brick industries. Coal, the main fuel for firing bricks, is mainly imported from India. About 70% of fuel used in brick kilns is estimated to be coal. Husk, sawdust, charcoal and agriculture residue are also used for firing bricks in lieu of coal or complementing.
Number of brick kilns is decreasing over the period of last 5 years. There were 1,358 but the number may be 500 to 600 at present. The Kathmandu Valley has now less than 100 such brick kilns. As per the decreasing trend, a through survey may show even reduced number.
Consequently, amount of brick production has been reduced to nearly 3 billion pieces per year in the recent years.
As coal used for producing a piece of roughly consumes 100 grams, the country presently needs 300,000 tons for producing 3 billion bricks. It an obvious that coal burn creates air pollution and the country has to spend huge amount to import coal.
Similarly, this industry gives jobs roughly to 300 labourers in an average at the moderate size brick factory for nearly 5 months. Almost all brought from states of northern parts India. Involvement of child labour in brick industries has been strictly objected by the law and labour and child rights campaigners object seriously.
These days, climate experts and campaigners are taking seriously saying brick kilns are contributing largely to witness worst level of air pollution in the Kathmandu Valley. That applies to some other cities as well. Similarly, brick manufacturers are also facing lapse in supply of coal and increasing the cost as well.
Therefore, it is right time to shift brick making technology which supports brick manufacturers by reducing cost of product, cost labour, contribute to reduce air pollution, support climate action, reduce import of fossil fuel (coal).
The brick manufacturing industries are looking for briquettes and pallets made using forest waste, agricultural residues mainly to substitute coal. That can be a viable solution as briquette and pallet making industries which produce briquette and pallets are doing well and supplying to some industries who burn coal for heat. Experts say that pallets and briquettes should be targeted to other industries while brick non-fired bricks should be the alternative to traditionally manufactured brick.
In Nepal, interlock brick, AAC brick, hollow-blocks are produced at a small quantity in comparison to traditional bricks to be used in new constructions. That means the alternatives need scale up of production quantity and use widely. The consumers’ choice is the main factor as they should be convinced to shift to new technology which they can trust in the shape, size and strength of the bricks they use for their construction. Similarly, they seriously seek good appearance as desired and competitive cost as well.
Good Brick, a non-fired brick can be considered as the right answer. A simple machine makes such bricks with a composition of soil (90%), cement (9.8%) and chemical known as soil stabiliser (0.2%). It takes 5 days from shaping, curing and ready to be dispatched for Good Bricks while traditional brick making takes around 28 days.
Some 6 Good Brick making plants have been established in Nepal so far. The first one was established in Chynagli in Gorkha district near Bimalnagar along the road to Pokhara from Kathmandu.
A normal size plant can produce 20,000 brick per day operating a shift. However, plants with different size and capacity may be installed according to the manufacturers need.
The technology of Good Bricks System is promoted by InnoCSR which is based in South Korea and working in Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, China, and Nepal. It was established in 2008, InnoCSR is a social impact company which aims to introduce “Impact Technologies” that bring real, positive changes across Asia and beyond. Since the beginning, “Doing Well by Doing Good” has been at the core of the company, which has evolved from a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) consulting-focused business into a full CSR solutions provider.
InnoCSR Nepal claims that the technology contributes to production efficiency by fetching more profit to brick manufacturing industries by reducing volume of investment, reducing cost of production, reducing size of workers, works in all season, zero air pollution and supporting to climate actions
To confirm the strength of Good Bricks produced in Nepal, Centre for Material Testing Lab at Institute of Engineering, Pulchowk Campus had conducted the test. The test proved to have been met 10 plus MPA. However, the soil quality at different locations may give result level of strength.
InnoCSR formally launched its first alliance with Gorkha Innotech in 2018. Gorkha Innotech that has entered into an alliance with InnoCSR can produce 20 million bricks a year. A plant at Panchkhal in Kavre district is also producing best quality Good Bricks with strength of 10 MPA.
However, the users and manufacturers expect from traditionally produced bricks or bricks made by pressurized technology to a life span of 100 years. Therefore, the technology providers and experts engaged need to be serious on the market situation. (By R. P. Narayan)