“This first VSBK in South Africa is possibly the most energy efficient brick firing plant in the world” affirmed His Excellency the Ambassador of Switzerland to South Africa, Mr Christian Meuwly, during his speech presentation at the inaugural event in celebration of the final roll-out of the Vertical Shaft Brick Kiln (VSBK) at third-generation family-owned, Langkloof Bricks in Jeffrey’s on 28 October 2014.
The VSBK is a clay brick firing technology introduced to South Africa by Swisscontact through the Energy Efficient Clay Brick (EECB) Project as part of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s (SDC) funded Global Climate Change Mitigation Programme. The new kilns will prove that this technology offers commercial viability on an industrial scale while addressing environmental and social benefits.
Officiated by renowned South African environmentalist Simon Gear, the occasion was a triumph as it succeeded in showcasing the technology to various strategic stakeholders from across the clay brick and built environment sector.
As part of his opening presentation, Langkloof Bricks Executive Director Nico Blake shared the history and factors leading to this brickmaking family’s decision to explore with new technology. “We have witnessed our practices evolve since 2007 to a stage where we now use half the amount of coal, the firing process is protected from rainfall, we also see improved production and labour efficiencies”. Blake concluded by attributing this final roll-out to the many direct and indirect role players in the project journey.
Since its inception the VSBK technology has been awarded Technology Top 100 (TT100) recognition for the category Innovation, Technology, People and Systems. Engineer Jez Rowe, has been instrumental in the adaption of this Indian and Nepali technology to suit the local market. “I was roped into the project by Nico Blake and was attracted to the proposed job creation and skills development aspects. I look forward to further roll-out at other factories”.
The Clay Brick Association (CBA) was represented in the programme lineup by its President, Julian de la Hunt who commended longstanding association member, Langkloof Bricks, for its leadership in greening the sector further stating “your bold approach in dealing with the challenges associated with this process is admirable. The CBA recognizes your role as innovator and is proud of your achievement.”
The ribbon cutting in front of the newly rolled-out shafts was led by Ambassador Meuwly, Nico and Una Blake, followed by a tour of the double-tiered VSBK plant. The advanced level of technology was a highlight, impressing attendees and brick makers alike.
“The VSBK is a good news story for the benefits it presents for emissions reduction as well as economic development for the province” officiator Simon Gear.
The EECB project seeks to foster sustained, broad-based Energy Efficiency (EnE) in the South African Clay Brick Sector in order to lower Green House Gas emissions to mitigate global warming and environmental degradation. “We will focus our interventions on the entire market system by applying a market-based approach.” says Project Manager, John Volsteedt “In essence, the current approach emphasises the role of the project as a facilitator of market system change working on three different levels; supply, demand and support system, being finance and regulation.
SDC Programme Head, Olivier Magnin is content with how far the project has come and believes exportable key learnings have come out of the process stating “despite an unfavourable economic context and the local perception that this is a technology for the poor local service providers managed to further develop the VSBK to likely the most advanced in the world. This result will help accelerate the project nationally and should be documented in order to be disseminated abroad.”
Air Quality Manager from the Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development and Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT) Lyndon Mardon says “This final roll out is meaningful for economic development in the Province, the recently conducted study to the better understand the Eastern Cape Informal Clay Brick Sector will further provide a roadmap for development in the sector.”
Blake concludes that this journey has come with its trials but that the positives far outweigh the negatives. “We are confident that the money we invested in VSBK technology is worthwhile and will show very good returns when we get to full operational capacity. Apart from the financial, productivity and human capital benefits this technology affords us, we must not forget the huge environmental gains we get from the reduction in coal firing, lowering of our CO2 emissions and assisting government in achieving our CO2 reduction targets as agreed. ”