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Brick kilns: Pollution, advance technologies and carbon credits

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Shafiqul Alam

Apart from the problems like poverty, population control etcetera, environmental pollution seems to be a black cloud on the horizon. Environmental problem needs to be addressed with high priority, if we want to keep the country livable for the posterity. Not that Bangladesh is highly industrialised or there is no law regarding pollution control, but use of polluting technology as well as lax enforcement of law is fuelling pollution.

During the nineties air pollution in Dhaka reached an alarming proportion. The then government banned two stroke polluting three wheelers in 1993 and introduced compressed natural gas (CNG) run auto-rickshaws and the resultant was a drastic improvement in the city's air quality. Nevertheless, air quality in the city, as the time passes, is deteriorating. The city, of late, has been termed as the second most polluted city in the world and thanks to the significant number of polluting brick kilns, around the city, which are emitting black smoke from chimneys.

Despite the existence of laws, thousands of brick kilns, most of which are coal based fixed chimney kilns (FCK), are using from wood to even tires to burn bricks, thereby polluting air severely. Many brick kilns, according to reports, have been operating just without approval of the concerned authorities. The existing law stipulates that no brickfield can be set up within three kilometers of a residential or a forest area; however, the law is more on paper.

Although environmentally and socially harmful, backdated and money-spinning FCK has been the technology of choice in the country. The number of brick kilns in the country, according to some estimates, is some 6000 and of which approximately 90 per cent are FCK. While according to UNDP-GEF study, more than 1000 brick kilns are operational in the vicinity of Dhaka and again, most of them are conventional FCKs.

Special traits (all aspects) of FCK technology are: cheap and simple technology; green brick making is a manual process; no permanent roof is constructed over the baking area and this is why heat loss is significant while more coal is needed that means the technology is highly energy inefficient; environmentally damaging as black smoke from the kiln is released to the atmosphere through chimney; operational only during the dry season and as such job at this type of kiln is temporary; final product (brick) is not of high quality; investment is less than a billion; most of the FCKs are constructed on rented lands; working condition is poor; and child labour is very much common in the FCKs and the like.

Despite having so many problems, the primitive FCK technology is dominating the country's brick sector and acting as a life support to our construction industry. Again, with the ever increasing trend of urbanisation, the demand of bricks for all forms of construction works has been increasing at a fast rate. However, all, including developers and land owners, more often than not, search for cheap bricks even not bothering about quality.

Against the backdrop of so many problems associated with FCK technology, cleaner technologies, like hybrid Hoffman kiln (HHK), tunnel kiln and vertical shaft kiln (VSK), are available in the country now. Special traits of the advanced technologies (HHK and Tunnel kiln) are: use almost 50 per cent less coal than FCK; semi-automatic technology; permanent roof is constructed over the baking area resulting in reducing heat loss; no chimney is used; smoke from the kiln is not released to the atmosphere rather that is used for drying green bricks; environmentally friendly; operational throughout the year; permanent job opportunity; final product is of high quality; safety gears are provided; hygienic working condition; and production capacity is more and so and so forth.

Apart from these, one unit of HHK can replace 7.5 units of FCK while one unit of Tunnel Kiln, which has the capacity to produce up to 300,000 bricks per day, can replace more FCKs. This would save arable land as brick kiln is one of the principal agents of topsoil degradation. Brick kilns are destroying large areas of lands every year as bricks are made by collecting soils from a depth of few millimeters in agricultural land.

Not only HHKs or Tunnel kilns are environmentally and socially beneficial, it can also help earn significant amount of foreign credit through carbon trading. Two tunnel kilns each having a capacity of producing 300,000 bricks per day can be bundled into one, or 10 HHKs each having a capacity of producing 50,000 bricks per day can be put into one bundle and then following all the process of a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) cycle, CDM project developer can earn carbon credit. By this way, a part of the huge investment of advanced technologies (HHK and Tunnel Kiln) can be met by earning carbon credit.

Many predicted that Bangladesh would be severely affected in the event of climate change which is due to the emission of the industrialised countries and we expect a reasonable compensation for that. But do we really care for environment?

Yet, the time is not over. More than 8.0 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) can be minimised if brick sector is completely transformed. It would ensure multiple benefits--- sustainable environment, social well-being, carbon credit, better life and the like.

The writer works at the Industrial and Infrastructural Development Finance Limited (IIDFC). This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Source: thefinancialexpress-bd


 

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