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23 Mar 2021 | Air pollution solutions

Using biomass pellets for brick production: Mitigating air pollution, increasing profits, and encouraging import substitution

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Around 1,349 brick kilns in Nepal consume 504,750 tons of coal annually. The use of coal for brick firing is one of the main causes of black carbon, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter pollution in the atmosphere. With sharp increases in cost price and associated environmental concerns, brick entrepreneurs are showing great interest in alternative fuels.

ICIMOD is currently piloting biomass pellets as an alternative fuel to fire brick production. The Air Pollution Solutions Initiative (APS) at ICIMOD demonstrated the use of biomass pellets for brick firing at Jay Baba brick factory in Itahari, Nepal on 3 March 2021. In addition to the use of pellets as an alternative fuel, Bidya Banmali Pradhan, Project Coordinator of the APS Initiative also outlined the opportunity to mitigate air pollution through a shift to cleaner and efficient brick kiln technologies, such as the zig-zag kiln. Pradhan highlighted the  steady progress being made towards an environmentally just and socially equitable brick industry under the ICIMOD-FNBI collaboration, citing advances in working conditions at kilns and technical advancements in kiln operation and emissions measurement. She also emphasized how biomass pellets are less polluting environmentally, while being more profitable for kiln owners.

Representatives from the local government welcomed this opportunity at self-sufficiency, suggesting that the approach carry through to human resources as well. Prasad Yadav, chairperson of the Gadi Rural Municipality recommended training locals for skilled and unskilled roles in brick production to reduce dependency on foreign seasonal workers. Ved Narayan Gachhadar, Mayor of Duhabi municipality was appreciative of ICIMOD’s efforts in helping reduce air pollution from brick making. He expressed a keen interest in biomass pellets as an alternative fuel since it not only reduces air pollution, but also enables import substitution of coal, saves kiln owners’ money, and monetizes otherwise discarded biomass.

Pellets as biomass fuels are an environmentally friendly alternative to imported fossil fuels like coal. Pellets made from biomass waste do not compete with people for food or land, making them more sustainable. In the last 10 years, coal prices have increased on average by more than 200% as per conversations with brick kiln owners. Annually, Nepal spends USD 153.7 million on coal for brick firing, adding to its increasing trade deficit. In addition to the costs, there are issues of irregular supply and inconsistent quality with the imported coal.

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