Blocks for the future

Ahmed Shatil Alam reveals the various aspects of the environment-friendly Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks (CSEB), introduced in Bangladesh by a German social business venture

PHOTO courtesy : Building Pioneers

0020It is widely known that the air quality in Dhaka is unhealthy, with the rest of the country slowly following suite.  One of the root causes is traditional brick kiln which, according to several studies, use millions of tonnes of coal and wood to burn clay bricks and in the process, emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
To tackle the situation, in November 2013 the government enacted the Brick Making and Kiln Establishment (Control) Act 2013 which permits hybrid Hoffman, zigzag, vertical shaft and tunnel kilns as environmental-friendly technology to reduce air pollution. The authorities had given owners of fixed (80–120 feet) chimney kilns two years, starting in July 2014, to improve or relocate their kilns, New Age reported around the last quarter of 2015.
According to that New Age report, experts opined that if coal is used as fuel in brick kilns, it will continue to emit many dangerous gases including carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and suspended particulate matters into the air.
Considering these issues, Building Pioneers, a German social business company, is working to manufacture environment-friendly bricks in Bangladesh.
Quoting a recent study, Building Pioneers project coordinator Albaab Habib says, ‘There are over 6,000 brick kilns in Bangladesh that produce approximately 18 billion fired clay bricks per year while consuming 3.5 million tonnes of coal.’
0021He also informs that two million tonnes of wood burnt in the process emit more than nine million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) while also causing deforestation. He also shares that brick kilns make up 38 per cent of Dhaka’s fine particle air pollution.
As an alternative to the norm, ‘We are trying to make Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks (CSEB) in Bangladesh, which is hundred per cent environment-friendly and can reduce degradation of air quality,’ he says. CSEB is made up of three components including sand, soil and cement, he shares.
Having been around for six decades and currently being used in more than 30 countries, ‘In CSEB, we use cement along with sand and soil to make the blocks stronger than local bricks,’ he says. The use of cement basically depends on where and how the blocks will be used.
‘After mixing the three ingredients, we mix water to give it a shape,’ he says. Once the shape is formed, clusters of blocks are taken to a field where they are dried in sunlight for 28 days. ‘This is how, the CSEB is environment-friendly, as it does not need any coal or wood which can emit air particles,’ he says.
According to Habib, these blocks can reduce 75 per cent CO2 emission. ‘Also these are easy to produce and use in construction. These blocks are waterproof, mold-resistant and insect-resistant. Besides, these blocks have hollow interlocking shape for earthquake resistance. They can be made in any size and colour and have excellent insulation,’ he says.
Pointing the importance of such blocks in Bangladesh, Building Pioneers co-founder Ava Mulla says, ‘As the blocks are interlocked with each other, no adhesive are required. These can also reduce costs by 20-25 per cent, for e.g. in the construction of a one square metre wall’.
0022The workers involved in the traditional brick-manufacturing sector face harsh working conditions, low wages and almost no benefits from the kiln owners. ‘At least, in a CSEB factory, a worker will not face the physically harmful environment as in the traditional brick kilns,’ says Mulla.
She further adds that the interlock system is so strong that buildings in rural and urban areas will be safer from natural disasters like earthquakes, cyclones, flood and others. ‘Actually Bangladesh needs such blocks than any other countries to make the houses safer,’ she says.
Currently, Building Pioneers has teamed up with BUET to test the feasibility of CSEB to be manufactured with local resources. While talking to New Age Xtra, Habib also shares that they are going to align stakeholders like the government, development organisations, cement companies and also the brick factories to launch this proven building material in the Bangladeshi market.
The company began its journey in Bangladesh in 2015 after being co-founded by Ava Mulla. Over the past one year, the German social business venture has won at least four awards including the Google Impact Challenge and RISK award.
The idea of initiating such an organization in Bangladesh came to Mulla in 2012, when she had come to Bangladesh as an intern at Yunus Centre. Recalling that time, Mulla says, ‘I had come across such blocks at an NGO at the time. I realised that these blocks can be manufactured efficiently for Bangladesh while addressing a number of underlying problems that buildings in the country face.’