If you’re thinking of building your dream home, your first thought will be about bricks.
India is the second-largest brick manufacturer in the world, with the Indo-Gangetic plains producing more than 65 per cent of the total production in the country. But, did you know that brick kilns are also major contributors to environmental pollution?
Gujarat-based entrepreneur Manish Kothari came up with an ingenious solution to this pertinent problem. The owner and managing director of Rhino Machines, a project consultancy firm, presents Rhino bricks, made from foundry dust and waste plastic!
As opposed to clay brick, Rhino bricks are 2.5 times stronger and 25 per cent lighter. They are also reasonably priced at Rs 10 per piece, making them cost-effective.
“There is no use of water in the making of these bricks. Also, more water is saved during the construction process, as the walls built with these bricks do not need to be cured with water,” explains 52-year-old Manish.
Rhino Machines manufactures these bricks and paver blocks (made from the same mixture of plastic and foundry dust) in collaboration with R+D Labs (an offshoot of R+D Studio, an architectural firm) that helps them with research and development. Launched in February 2020, they have already received orders of over 1,000 bricks and 650 paver blocks. They have also received inquiries from Chile, Colombia, and China.
Entrepreneur Manish explains what led to this idea.
How did the idea come about?
Rhino Machines was founded in 1984 by Manish’s father as a project consultant engineering firm. Later, Manish graduated as a Mechanical Engineer and registered the firm as a company in 1996. They have been catering to the technological needs of the foundry industry for years.
“The foundry industry in India is the second-largest in the world after China. India produces almost 10-12 million castings every year. For every tonne of casting that the industry makes, about 800 kg of sand is used,” explains Manish.
This sand can be used to make metal castings. It is cleaned and reused in the same process.
“At Rhino Machines, we provide the technology to break down large sand moulds. Moreover, we also set up plants for clients in the foundry industry to clean and process the sand, so it can be reused through the green sand reclamation process. While 70 per cent of the total sand can be reused, the other 30 per cent, in the form of foundry dust, is too fine to be used again,” he explains.
Foundry dust (comprises silica, clay and carbon) is a significant waste for the foundry industry; it is also difficult to dispose of as the particles are extremely light and can remain suspended in the air, causing pollution.
“Clients started telling me how they wanted to get rid of this 30 per cent foundry dust to have zero discharge on-site,” informs Manish.
He started researching possible solutions and speaking to academicians and researchers to understand how foundry dust could be used.
Manish knew that fly ash was being used to make bricks, so he decided to approach manufacturers who were doing the same. But on experimentation, he found that it used tiny amounts of the foundry dust, which defeated the purpose.
He then found that plastic could act as an excellent binding agent with the foundry dust and arrived at the perfect composition for the bricks by mixing 25 per cent plastic with 75 per cent foundry dust. Thus, the first version of the Rhino bricks came into being in late 2018.
Unique and eco-friendly bricks
To understand the advantages of the brick, Manish needed expert advice. For this, he decided to consult with R+D Studio, which was setting an on-site plant for Rhino Machines.
R+D Studio is a design and architectural firm in Gurugram, founded by partners Shikha Doogar and Shridhar Rao. After several years of practice in Dubai and the US, the husband-wife duo decided to return to India and start their firm. Shikha is Manish’s niece, and often consulted with Manish’s firm for his design needs.
“I was on their factory site and saw a bag of foundry dust. I asked Manish about it, and he told me about how he was planning on converting the dust into bricks. Once they finally got their composition right, we collaborated on fixing the dimensions, weight and other characteristics for the bricks,” shares architect Shridhar Rao.
Later, Shridhar founded R+D Labs, their architectural research and testing vertical, in June 2020. “We were conducting tests for quite some time and planned on testing the bricks further to understand how they fare in comparison to conventional ones,” he says.
Manish, on the other hand, says that the collaboration has been helping them navigate the application of the bricks in the architectural space. “We could understand the usability of the bricks and Shridhar’s network helped spread awareness in the architectural community,” he says.
Through the initial tests, a lot of merits came to be known. For instance, conventional clay bricks can sustain between 3.5-7 kg per cm square, while Rhino bricks can sustain about 14-15 kg per cm square because of the compressive strength of the ingredients.
Also, while conventional bricks tend to disintegrate when divided into smaller sizes, Rhino bricks retain their shape and strength even if a hole were drilled in the middle.
Further, the manufacturing process releases zero emissions into the environment, and the bricks are ready for use after being rested for 30 minutes.
These merits have impressed companies that want to manage their waste at source.
Chetan Shah, Business head at AIA Engineering, informs that he learned about Rhino bricks in February 2020 when he met Manish at an exhibition. As a manufacturing company that dabbles in making castings (in addition to other design and development verticals), they had a lot of foundry dust in their factory units in Ahmedabad.
“I visited their unit in March and was happy with how they utilised waste to make the bricks. Currently, we have sent them 300 kg of foundry dust to make about 900 bricks,” he says.
Since transporting foundry dust would not be feasible in the long run, AIA Engineering decided to take help from Rhino Machines to set up a plant.
Rhino Machines also helps quite a few institutions get rid of their plastic waste. One such is the Sri Krishna Hospital in Ahmedabad, that has gotten rid of over 3,600 kg of waste. Rupesh Prakash Nagpure, 46, Head of Housekeeping and Waste Management at the hospital says that waste is being picked up for free twice a week since September 2019.
“We have designated areas for the collection of biomedical and other plastic waste. Since we don’t have an autoclave machine on-site, we provide them with plastic bottles, packets, wrappers, etc. Once we can sterilise biomedical waste on our own, we plan on supplying that too,” informs Rupesh.
Overcoming hurdles for a sustainable solution
Despite delivering a solution that mitigates environmental pollution, there are quite a few challenges.
The initial hiccups were to set up their plant, doing something new. “Although we have built a plant that can process about 600 kg of waste in a day, building it required an investment of nearly Rs 30 lakh. Still, not all aspects of our production are mechanised, and we are looking at ways to reduce the workforce,” he says.
Other challenges have to do with accessing raw materials for the bricks.
“Although foundry dust is generated in large amounts, it is difficult to access as and when we want, which is why I have mapped out all the foundries so that the process continues,” informs Shridhar.
Another challenge was accessing plastic. “This may sound ironic, perhaps since there is so much plastic waste everywhere, but the problem is with segregation. When plastic waste is mixed with wet waste, it is very difficult for us to use it to make the bricks,” Manish informs.
To overcome this, Manish is spreading awareness among schools and society buildings to segregate waste. Collaborating with these stakeholders, he has been able to bring plastic to his factory in small amounts.
Now, Manish is looking to diversify the applications of the bricks. “We are exploring this new technology where we make interlocking bricks, which essentially work like lego. This will eliminate the use of cement and mortar in construction processes, making the product more eco-friendly,” he says.
He is also looking forward to setting up plants on the sites of different foundry factories so that waste can be managed at source. At the same time, Shridhar hopes that there is more government collaboration where schools and hospitals can be built with these bricks. The bricks can be used in all constructions.
“Our objective is to manage waste effectively and efficiently. We want to stay true to these values. The larger picture is to look at new ways of converting waste into wealth, and that motivates us,” says Manish.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)