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CSE's Anil Agarwal Dialogue: Brick kilns contribute about 9 per cent of total black carbon emissions in India
Brick making from clay - an industry which is concentrated largely in China and the South Asian region (including India) - has huge environmental costs: from emissions of black carbon to the loss of valuable top soil. It is also an industry that's here to stay, considering clay bricks are the mainstay of construction.

The options to offset the environmental impacts - agreed speakers at the ongoing Anil Agarwal Dialogue 2015, orgainsed by Centre for Science and Environment- range from improvement in technology of brick kilns, ban on inefficient kilns and enforcement of stringent emission standards to finding alternative building materials that are less polluting

These experts were talking in sessions on clean technology for brick kilns and the option of alternative building materials, held on the second day of CSE's Anil Agarwal Dialogue 2015, in New Delhi.

According to a press release by CSE, speaking at the Dialogue, Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE, said: "India alone consumes 350 million tonne of topsoil and clay to make some 200 billion bricks. There is growing concern about the environmental impacts that such a scale of production leads to. The question is, how to make brick kilns' production clean and find alternatives which are affordable and yet sustainable to meet the huge housing requirements of our regions."

Countries of the South have a massive 'under-construction' agenda - as much as 70 per cent of India, for instance, is yet to be built. "With such a huge impending construction boom, there seems enough scope for different kinds of technology, but we do need cleaner ways to move forward," said Bhushan.

"Part of the challenge as well as opportunity is to explore the possibility of sourcing building material from industrial and mining waste. India has a massive problem, for instance, of disposal of fly ash from thermal power plants. Can fly ash be efficiently used to make bricks?" Bhushan asked. 

According to Soumen Maity of Development Alternatives, who spoke at the Dialogue, India generated about 163 million tonne fly ash in 2013. Only 61 per cent of this was utilised - and this utilisation, says Maity, has led to soil savings of 300 million tonne, coal savings of 22 million tonne, and a CO2 emission reduction of 70 million tonne.

Despite notifications in India stipulating use of fly ash in brick making, the country has a long way to go before it can utilise this enormous heap of waste.

Among the other alternatives discussed was the porotherm brick, produced by Bengaluru-based firm Weinberger India Private Limited - made from desilting dead water tanks and locally available industrial waste. 

Chandra Bhushan pointed out: "In this quest for alternatives, it is also important to keep in mind the cost - affordability will be a key issue in countries where the majority are still searching for a proper roof over their heads."

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