Cold ceramic bricks do have potential in Malawi

Building materials
9 September 2020

All households in Malawi prefer a brick house, so the market demand for clay bricks is huge. Traditional brick making is done with clamps using fire wood. This causes deforestation and high carbon emissions. The bricks produced are of poor quality with failures reaching 40%. TNO investigated the potential of technology to produce high quality bricks out of waste streams without heating. Local companies are eager to explore collaboration.

In November 2017 TNO went for an identification mission to Malawi; to explore possibilities with local entrepreneurs for collaboration on the development and production of cold ceramic bricks. This was in close collaboration with Breaking New Business Ground and local partner GiZ/ Eco-Matters. We learned that there is room for innovation in Malawi. The ministries of Housing and Natural Resources have the ambition to ban the traditional bricks to tackle deforestation and carbon emissions. It is expected that within 20 years the last tree will be chopped down due to traditional brick making and cooking traditions. These ministries are seeking alternative technologies. On a small scale local companies are active on sustainable manufacturing of bricks with improved kilns, alternative fuel resources or bricks out of alternative materials; e.g. concrete or soil stabilized bricks. But more innovations are needed to further develop and cover the market demand, to reduce the environmental impact of brick production, lower prices to have a viable alternative for local brick manufacturers and customers.

Malawian resources are outperforming

This identification mission was preceded by a year of thorough preparation. We performed a market analysis, stakeholder mapping and local resources were screened by TNO laboratories using different Malawian side streams as core ingredients for the cold ceramic bricks; failure form brick manufacturing, coal ash and calcined clay. Siska Valcke from TNO: “Interestingly, the Malawian resources are much more reactive than our Dutch resources, due to differences in composition of the clay, and therefore extremely suitable for making the cold ceramic bricks. The bricks showed a compressive strength of 70 MPa; ten times higher than the strength required in Malawi. These values show that, given the quality of Malawian resources, there is room to further optimize material use and production costs.” We showed three brick examples in Malawi and all organizations were impressed by the strength and consistency in shape, size, texture and color of the bricks. Next step is to work further on the business model and form a partnership for further custom-made research and a pilot production plant. Our current approach is to establish several centralized cold brick plants with the local private sector parties, followed later by setting up small scale community plants to further ensure employment and livelihood at low-income groups.

Breaking New Business Ground

In this trajectory TNO is closely collaborating with Martine Berger of Breaking New Business Ground. This social enterprise is established in the Netherlands but has a lot of experience and network in Malawi. Martine, as Dutch entrepreneur, established three enterprises in Malawi since 1997 in recycled plastic, paper and ceramics. She linked small workshops to local markets and she also opened international markets. After ten years she went back to the Netherlands and succeeded to hand over the management to the local staff. All 3 companies are still active. “With my business experience in east Africa I can guide TNO in the local context, the opportunities and the limitations, the do’s and don’ts. In Africa it is a matter of personal contacts and building relationships to start up successful business”. Martine made a thorough program for the working visit and in one week we visited all relevant stakeholders. “I like to collaborate with TNO, because I believe in applied technologies to create entrepreneurship and wealth in East Africa. The applied and business minded approach of the TNO Innovation for Development program matches well with my ambition to set up local inclusive business.”

Innovation for development

Read more information about the TNO activities for countries in developement.

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