Toxic fumes give way to green brick kilns in Bangladesh

Workers, air quality, and the environment win as Bangladesh’s brick kilns go green

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The Makrail Auto Green Bricks factory in Faridpur, Bangladesh (photo: Yekbun Gurgoz)

The history of Bangladesh’s brick sector is one of toxic fumes and atrocious working conditions. Thick black smoke from the country’s 7,000 brick kilns pollute the air with particulate matter, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other harmful gases, driving climate change and harming human health. Working conditions offer potential human rights violations with bonded and child labour a common practice, and cases of outright slavery.  But a handful of entrepreneurs are working to change this by building green brick kilns and offering decent jobs.

The Makrail Auto Green Bricks project in Faridpur in south-central Bangladesh is one such example.  “We started this project as a green project because the land is heavily cultivated and we don’t want to harm people’s health” says Ali Hasnat, Deputy General Manager of Makrail Auto Green Bricks Limited. “We need to follow government rules and the regulations to reduce emissions levels. Which is why we went for a green brick factory.”

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Ali Hasnat, Deputy General Manager of Makrail Auto Green Bricks Limited (photo: Yekbun Gurgoz)

Walking around Ali Hasnat’s factory there is no dust and no fumes. Makrail Auto Green Bricks is a gas fired (from coal gasification) automatic clay brick manufacturing facility. It produces high quality bricks for the domestic market and is equipped with efficient drying and firing technology.  The factory uses a multi-staged, mechanized green brick processing system, to produce high quality products using less energy and producing significantly less pollution than traditional brick kilns.

The challenges to move away from traditional brick kilns to green brick technology like Ali Hasnat’s are significant. Most of the technology for green brick kilns comes from abroad (mainly China) leading to language and warranty issues. Challenges also include high investment costs to develop energy efficient and environment friendly projects. The limited technical and financial capacity in Bangladesh means there’s a significant need for more training and outreach.

The Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL)—a government owned, non-bank financial institution— plays a leading role in providing finance for medium to large-scale infrastructure and renewable energy projects in Bangladesh. With Climate and Clean Air Coalition technical assistance, IDCOL is working to transition Bangladesh’s brick sector toward clean and efficient brick kilns.

Founded in 1997, IDCOL has a development mandate to stimulate the use of new kilns in Bangladesh with the goal of replacing current polluting technologies with low emission, energy efficient ones. Under its Green Brick Programme, IDCOL will provide US $50 million over the next five years to finance modern brick kiln projects, such as tunnel kilns and Hybrid Hoffman Kilns (HHK).

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Workers at Makrail Auto Green Bricks (photo: Yekbun Gurgoz)

These new kilns are much less polluting than traditional kilns. For example, the HHK technology from Germany has been modified to fit local needs. By recycling waste heat from the kiln and using a greener mix of coal and clay to fire the bricks, these kilns use half as much coal as fixed chimney kilns, reducing pollution by 50 per cent.

Modern brick kilns come with economic benefits; their technology allows year-round operations. An HHK kiln can produce an average of 11 million more bricks per year than a fixed chimney kiln. More efficient production means higher income for kiln workers and improved health and safety conditions.

Nazmul Haque, Director (Investment) & Head of Advisory at Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL) said the goal of the project was to better understand the different kiln technologies available in order to be able to improve due diligence when putting in place new brick kiln projects. 

The Bangladeshi government, a founding partner in the CCAC, is committed to curbing air pollution.  The Department of Environment (DoE) is keen to move away from traditional brick kilns. It has passed regulation to convert all brick kilns using fire into non-fire ones.

In June at a workshop in Dhaka, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, IDCOL and the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, presented the results of the Technical assistance for brick kiln financing in Bangladesh. The Frankfurt school presented a roadmap it developed outlining the steps needed for a transition to cleaner brick kiln technology. Following the workshop, the DOE agreed to go ahead with the proposed Roadmap.

The adoption of modern and environmentally-friendly brick technologies has picked up after the DoE stopped issuing environmental clearance certificates for traditional kilns.

The transition still has a long way to go. According to the latest statistics, to date only 134 HHKs and 47 Tunnel kilns have been installed. This is less than 3% of total brick kilns operating in Bangladesh.

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