Fly-Ash Bricks Making Plants: Yet to Scale Heights!

Fly ash Bricks

Long-term growth of this industry piggybacks on our policy makers and stakeholders, reports S.D. Khan.

It's a well-known fact that fly-ash bricks are gaining acceptance in the Construction Sector. And the reasons are not hard to decipher. To begin with, these bricks are eco-friendly and aesthetically appealing. Secondly, they are durable, and resistant to fire and moisture. Thirdly, they facilitate speedy construction and enhance the overall value of a project in terms of carbon credits. And perhaps most importantly, converting fly-ash into useful construction material is quite economical and thereby fly-ash bricks turn out to be cheaper than clay bricks and cement. Also, they enable considerable cost savings on plastering mortar. On account of all these factors, fly-ash bricks are ideal exponents of sustainability and no wonder, their market is gradually maturing in the country.

Hess
Hess Concrete Machinery India Pvt Ltd,
Fly-ash brick making plant manufacturers acknowledge this growth in demand but are also of the view that if these bricks are to become an inseparable part of Indian construction, there has to be a prioritization of political will in this direction coupled with an active role of thermal power companies. Talking of thermal power companies, there's a general notion that fly-ash generated at power plants should be supplied to brick manufacturers at subsidized rates. And apart from setting up structured fly-ash disposal mechanisms, power producers should rather set up captive fly-ash brick making plants.

Industry experts have time and again urged the Government to restrict the usage of clay bricks in construction. According to them, excessive channelization of clay in infrastructural activities deprives the Agricultural Sector of this precious resource, and this might have an adverse impact on the country's food production in the long run. Policy intervention is also being sought in making fly-ash a logistically feasible proposition for brick manufacturers.

Growing Acceptance

Manoj-Hess
Mr. Manoj Kumar Pillai, Managing Director – Hess Concrete Machinery India Pvt Ltd, informs, "There is a considerable market in India primarily because of the fact that fly-ash is the cheapest construction material and is available in enormous quantities in the country on account of 200 thermal power plants."

Talking of sustainability, he avers, "In a market like India there is space for everything, whether it's a product or machinery. But the word sustainability means a lot for different divisions of the society. Definitely the quality and price play a vital role. To sustain, we need to offer best quality products with affordable prices and to achieve the quality we need good technology."

Sandeep-Neptune
According to Mr. Sandeep Dave, Director Marketing - Neptune Industries Limited, "The demand for fly-ash is constantly on the rise as people have realised that sustainable construction and environment-friendliness are the needs of the hour. Since fly-ash bricks are green products, they are perfect substitutes to clay bricks, which are expensive as well. Nowadays, with the advent of technology, converting fly-ash into products such as bricks and hollow core slabs is as easy as you like. All these factors put together have given a rise to the demand and resulted in a mature market. Another important factor is the price. There are several places where there's no fly-ash but still demand exists and vice-versa. Moreover, the need for qualitative construction is also contributing wholesomely in the growth of the market."

H-Ramachandran
Affirms Mr. H. Ramachandran, Director of VED PMC LTD, "Building construction costs are increasing at rates which are 100% over inflation. This is primarily due to the increase in the cost of basic building materials like block, steel and cement. There is an imperative need to produce more building materials for various elements of construction and the role of alternative and innovative options would come into sharp focus, considering the short supply, increasing cost and energy and environment considerations for traditional and conventional materials. The possibility of using innovative building materials and technologies are, more so covering waste material like Flyash has been considered as a need of the hour."

He continues, "Fly-ash, basically a waste material, a proper combination mix of cement, sand, aggregates, water and flyash reproduces a homogenous concrete which can be used to produce a variety of precast products of different sizes and shapes or as in normal concrete. Importantly there's a misconception that flyash products comprise 100% flyash, but the fact is, it is proportionately incorporated into the concrete mix and ultimately a flyash product is generated or produced. The advantages of these fly ash content concrete blocks(solid/hollow) are good appearance, structural capability, high compressive strength, less water requirement, and eco friendliness."

VED-PMC
VED PMC LTD

Nilesh Bhatt
Meanwhile Mr. Nilesh Bhatt, Director, Sahjanand Fly-Ash Brick Plant Pvt Ltd, says, "Nowadays 'Green Building Concepts' are very popular in our country; architects and builders are especially concentrating on environment-friendly building materials, as a result of which, there is a huge demand of fly-ash bricks across the country.

Crucially, the success of any construction material is directly attributable to the willingness of builders and developers to adopt the same. Fly-ash bricks are undoubtedly a wonder product but it took some time before the construction fraternity embraced them. But now, trends are changing at a decent pace and renowned developers are taking the lead in this direction.

Sahjanand Fly Ash Brick
Sahjanand Fly-Ash Brick Plant Pvt Ltd,

Informs Mr. Bhatt, "India's leading builders and developers such as L&T, Godrej, JMC, Nagarjuna, Magarpatta, and Diamond Group are using fly-ash bricks in huge quantity for their projects."

TP-Soji
Echoes Mr. T. P. Soji, Senior Manager Marketing, Columbia Pakona Engineering Pvt Ltd, "Gradually, builders, architects and masons have understood the advantages of fly-ash bricks such as high strength, dimensional accuracy, low mortar and plaster consumption, and faster pace of construction, and these factors have led to steady growth."

He continues, "Many builders with large townships have already installed our plants for their captive consumption. Manufacturing of clay bricks requires high quality clay, coal and unskilled labour in large quantities. Availability of all these inputs has reduced considerably, resulting in higher costs. As a result, clay bricks are slowly getting replaced with good quality fly-ash bricks and hollow/solid concrete blocks in building construction."

Columbia Pakona
Columbia Pakona Engineering Pvt Ltd
Mr. Ramachandran is of the same view, but adds that a Flyash content concrete blocks (solid/Hollow)making plant should be located in a radius of 100 kms to the thermal plant; otherwise, transportation charges may over burden to the developers. Perhaps this is the reason why the use of fly-ash block has witnessed slower growth in the recent past.

Mr. Dave informs, "It was all a matter of mindset which changed drastically when builders and developers realised the quality proposition that fly-ash adds to construction. Today, there are scores of projects where fly-ash bricks are being used in huge quantities and Neptune, by the virtue of being a leading name in this segment, has supplied machinery to a plethora of manufacturers."

Mr. Pillai takes a completely different view altogether. "Basically there is a lack of awareness in this area. A certain division of people including developers and engineers believes that ash is a waste material which can create health issues. But builders and developers need to understand that even fly-ash bricks are eco-friendly and will benefit them by saving time and cost. More or less is the case with pavers which are universally accepted due to their easy installation, zero water clogging, and the ability to be relocated or shifted. A proper and systematic usage will help the developer as well as the buyer in terms of cost, time, maintenance, and appearance of the project."

Proper Disposal Mechanisms, Role of Power Companies

Sahjanand Fly Ash
Sahjanand Fly-Ash Brick Plant Pvt Ltd,
Everyday thousands of tonnes of fly-ash is generated in the country's numerous thermal power plants, but one of the biggest problems faced by power companies is the disposal of this hazardous product. Usually, power companies dispose of fly-ash into landfills in the vicinity of the plant and spray huge quantities of water on it so that it doesn't escape into the atmosphere. However, this is a costly proposition as it requires hiring of excavators and dumpers.

According to Mr. Pillai, "If the present scenario of pushing the ash into a pond continues, it will create major environmental issues. This will cost more money for transportation and could affect the water table and eco system and after a few decades, India will be a place where ash will fly all over and contaminate even the drinking water. A proper solution of disposal is necessary and it is available, but unfortunately again the same word lack of awareness."

He is of the view that power companies should lend a helping hand to brick manufacturers by supplying them fly-ash at subsidized rates. "In India we have lot of thermal power plants and everyday they produce huge quantity of ash. Only a small percentage of this ash is usable in Cement or Ready Mix concrete Industry which is normally top ash. The major quantity of bottom ash remains as a waste which is normally dumped into ponds. The ministries or related agencies like NTPC should have certain systems to encourage people for using it. Unfortunately those are not adequate to take it forward with a maximum utilization. In my opinion, we could use it 100% which means zero ash wastage from power plants."

Others have similar suggestions to offer. Mr. Ramachandran believes that every construction agency engaged in making buildings within a radius of 100km from thermal power plants should use fly-ash content products in construction projects. "Central and State Government agencies and the management of the thermal power plants shall facilitate in making available land, electricity and water for manufacturing activities and also provide access to the Flyash lifting area. This will promote and encourage setting up of Flyash-based concrete production units within the proximity of the power plant."

On the other hand, Mr. Bhatt feels that power companies should look beyond mere disposal of fly-ash. "If they regularly arrange seminars and training programs for fly-ash utilization and arrange Construction Technology Parks then fly-ash bricks will be popular in the construction market easily."

Well, since thermal power makers are pivotal to fly-ash generation, doesn't it then make good business to set up captive brick making plants? After all, for a power company, setting up a brick making unit is peanuts since the investments required are minimal. The investment can be adjusted in the capex and even the operating expenses are low. The bricks manufactured can be marketed to various construction companies and developers. This appears to be a better option than spending extravagantly on fly-ash disposal.

Mr. Dave rightly points out, "In my opinion power companies can play a major role in the entire process by providing fly-ash to brick manufacturers at cheaper rates and even free-of- cost. Large power companies such as NTPC should take the lead here. The government should mandate that 5% of the fly-ash generated at power plants will be provided to brick manufacturers at lower prices. Moreover, power companies can set an example by setting up captive brick manufacturing units such as Jindal Steel & Power which has set up a brick making unit wherein the plant was supplied by Neptune.

Mr. Pillai buttresses this contention, "There are more than 200 thermal power plants in India and further in progress based on coal as raw material. They are generating huge quantities of ash out of power production. The power companies have already invested big money on such projects so why don't they spend some additional money to dispose the ash properly. If they allocate a small percentage from the total investment for the disposal or utilization of ash, this could not only give a solution but will result in additional income from this bi-product. Even they could brand it and market it properly. If you visit any of the power plants, officials talk in big way about allocating land and free ash to investors for the production of bricks. Even in some cases they invest small amounts to attract the third parties to do the production. But in that case they are able to use only a small portion of top ash only and instead of that they should consider a proper system for maximum usage and may be with nil waste."

Policy Support

Perhaps the major hurdle faced by brick manufacturers is the high logistical costs involved in transporting fly-ash from a thermal power plant to the brick making unit. In order to make brick production commercially and economically viable, industry's bigwigs urge the government to lend a helping hand.

Sharing similar views, plant manufacturers explain that the cost of transporting fly-ash to a manufacturing unit located at a distance of more than 100 km from the power plants will increase the landed cost and make cost of bricks expensive.

According to Mr. Dave, the Government is very much aware of the benefits of fly-ash products but there hasn't been adequate prioritization of political will in this direction. "In my opinion, the way to go about is giving higher FARs to those builders who use fly ash bricks."

And lest we forget, fly-ash bricks are eco-friendly products and can fetch carbon credits to the developers. But it appears that this message hasn't been propagated in the right spirit. Surely, political will is instrumental here as well. "This is what we lack in India," bemoans Mr. Pillai. "Government support," he continues, "is required for adapting and implementing the right policies and also obtaining carbon credits or other kind of benefits. And even in the form of a tax benefit for the right technology."

Mr. Ramachandran appeals to the, "Government bodies / institutions should also inform architects and builders to amend the rules & policies for making the usage of fly-ash content in concrete products mandatory near thermal power plant."

A New Proposition!

It's now an established fact that fly-ash bricks are becoming the builders' favourites and a considerable quantum of buildings are being constituted on these eco-friendly products. Nonetheless, logistical expenses continue to burn holes in developers' pockets. In such a scenario, it sounds feasible for a builder to set up a fly-ash brick manufacturing unit at the construction site or in close proximity to the same.

Now, when it comes to companies supplying fly-ash brick making plants, the biggest question they are faced with is convincing a builder/developer that by buying their machineries he can attain economies of scale. In other words, the idea is to explore the commercial viability of a brick manufacturing unit. Well there are mixed opinions on this proposition.

Neptune Industries
Neptune Industries Limited
For instance, Mr. Ramachandran states that "If the builder is planning to set up a concrete block manufacturing unit, easily availability of fly-ash at cheapest rates in close proximity to the plant should be considered for achieving the initial and running costs. Then only, the plant can be economical. Also, there should be significant demand and assured quantity of the product. These factors to decide which machine to choose and which not to, and whether it will result in return of investment are ascertained."

Mr. Dave optimistically states that setting up a plant near the site will help a builder in minimizing logistical costs, and he will be able to control the entire process of brick manufacturing with respect to quantity and quality.

Mr. Pillai is in absolute dissent to the whole idea. "Absolutely not advisable to setup just a fly-ash brick plant by the builder for captive consumption since fly-ash brick is a low-cost product and it won't be possible to get good ROI with a small machine. Brick making machines are suitable for a builder or developer who needs lot of concrete elements in the form of paving stones, foundation blocks, wall elements and roof products. Nowadays people spend more money on exterior than interior. The same is applicable in the case of hotels, shopping malls and other facilities. Apart from that, the number of international consultants are designing the projects with eco-friendly, energy saving and green buildings. Such buildings could save not only the initial cost but the saving in the form of thermal insulation and sound insulation which automatically results in saving of electricity. Nobody will do the investment only for charity, and if they want to run and sustain, they should come up with a solution to produce different products. It will also be important to consider land area, less employees, higher quality and quantity products with variety. We make a small study by comparing different building materials with labor, mortar, plaster and other energy saving which shows a result of at least 30% saving with right technology and right product."

Mr. Soji sounds very much in favour of this idea. "Quality conscious customers who are not worried about initial investment are purchasing our equipment. By using our machines, customers can manufacture high quality fly-ash bricks at low cost. Low cement consumption, high strength, dimensional accuracy, less labour requirement makes bricks manufactured on our machines competitive compared to clay brick. Builders and developers who are developing large townships and premium complexes are purchasing our equipment for the manufacture of good quality fly-ash bricks, blocks, pavers, and kerb stones."

Clearly, fly-ash bricks have a bright future in the country in the form of increasing number of takers and brick making plant providers who are offering machines equipped with technology and quality. All that's required is an extension of the helping hand from the government.

NBMCW September 2013

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