Escalate

​​​​​​​Eco-friendly bricks building new future for construction

- Rose Singh, Kathmandu

May 26, 2019-

While growing up in Chaymasingh, Bhaktapur, Bikram Prajapati experienced the adverse effects of dust and smoke from the brick kilns on environment and human health first-hand.  So, for his final year thesis before graduating as a mechanical engineer, he made a blueprint for the process of extracting dust from crushed stones. But it took him another seven years to put this theory into action.

Prajapati now owns Bajra Brick and Tile Industry Pvt Ltd, a company producing bricks that are lightweight, low water-absorbent and, most importantly, smoke and dust-free.

Bajra Brick is in the market to bring greener ways to the trade, so its brick-making process does not follow the traditional process. The bricks aren’t made from clay but from the dust collected from stone crushers, which makes them lightweight. The dust is then mixed with sand and cement before being placed into moulds to produce the desired shapes.

The major factor setting these bricks apart from the rest is that Bajra’s process uses sunlight and water to strengthen bricks rather than using the traditional means of burning them in chimneys.

“The absence of coal from our manufacturing process is the reason why our bricks are eco-friendly," says Prajapati.

Once the bricks are shaped, they are sun-dried for 24 hours. They are then cured for another 48 hours.

Currently products include hollow blocks, concrete bricks and floor tiles, costing between Rs 40-Rs 120 per piece.

Compared to bricks manufactured in traditional brick kilns, according to Prajapati, his bricks are 40 percent stronger, have a nine percent water absorbency rate (regular bricks have a 35 percent rate) and are about 20 percent cheaper. The bricks are more environmentally friendly because they do not produce dust and smoke, rather they are used to produce more bricks.

But it wasn’t smooth sailing for Prajapati to start this business. When he decided to implement the idea in 2015, which he had outlined in his college project, Prajapati realised he needed to take many things into consideration—both in technical and logistical aspects.

While searching for potential investors to back his company, Prajapati was simultaneously researching ways to incorporate technologies that guaranteed production of bricks through a dust and smoke free process. In doing this he realised many other countries had already applied healthy technologies of brick and tile production.

To start, he purchased a Chinese machine, but it had its limitations, despite working well.

“The machine could produce bricks that were rectangular in shape and were very much like the normal flooring tiles. We needed variations, so we asked the company to design different shaped moulds,” says Prajapati.

Although his main objective was to produce eco-friendly bricks, he did not account for their weight, which was heavier than regular bricks in the early stage. As well as that, introducing a new product into the market was a gruelling task in itself.

In their early days, it was easier to fetch stone dust, cement and sand at very cheap prices. Stone dust, being a waste product for its producers, was given to Prajapati for free. But that didn’t last long. With a rise in the price of cement, and other companies with similar business models to Prajapati entering the market, the previously free stone dust then required payment.

“We suddenly had to pay Rs 1,050 for a bag of cement, which earlier cost Rs 750. The cost of importing stone dust rose too and we were paying double for the raw materials,” says Prajapati.

But he always believed in improving and reinventing his products. As a result, he focused not only in producing eco-friendly bricks but wanted to ensure his products were lightweight—weight was a major problem for the company’s product, because the bricks were too heavy.  

“Large buildings wouldn’t accept our bricks as they were heavier than normal bricks. We had to do something about it,” says Prajapati.

In response, he procured a German machine which incorporated the latest Litophore Aerated Concrete (LPAC) technology, costing him around 20 million rupees.

“Earlier in 2016 and 2017, our transactions amounted to seven million seven hundred thousand and 10 million but this year with the cement prices going down and LPAC coming in, we are looking forward to crossing our 20 million target,” he says.

This paved a way for him to market his bricks—not just on the grounds of being environmentally smart but also being a viable solution for large buildings.

Following that, Hotel Akama and Labim Mall and many other multi-storey buildings used their hollow blocks and pavement tiles for their buildings.

“This shed a positive light on our image and expanded our market considerably,” says Prajapati.

This also helped minimise their financial burden. From the company’s inception, he had been struggling financially, which according to him, was a result of lack of proper business plan.

He thought after the infrastructure was taken care of, he would be able to run his business smoothly, however, this was challenged by limited working capital and accounting.

“My idea and technology was something new to the Nepali market which made the potential investors not trust the start-up completely,” says Prajapati.

He zeroed in on teaming up with his uncle Gokul Prasad Prajapati, who was already a part of the brick industry, after searching high and low for a suitable business partner. They are now 50 percent partners. Additionally, they took bank loan to collect Rs 15 million in seed money.

Before his business could even take off, however, Prajapati still had much to learn—the hard way. Being the first from his family to start a business like this, and having previously worked for Honda, he clearly lacked procedural knowledge about establishing a business in Nepal.  

His lack of knowledge about the legal proceedings was the first obstacle they had to face after registering their company in 2015. The company first registered was on the Arniko Highway, but was later shifted to Dhunge Dhara when they had to re-work their legal proceedings.

“We took the opposite way. The registration of company was the end of the process, and other processes such as setting out property boundaries were to be done before it. We realised this when we were denied a license by the Office of Company Registration, so we had to start from scratch again,” Prajapati says.

Around the same time, in 2016, Prajapati decided to apply for an entrepreneur accelerator programme, RockStart Impact. According to him, the programme exposed him and his business to foreign investors. He was also able to secure capital to invest further in his business.

It took a long time for Prajapati to finally implement his dream of producing eco-friendly bricks, but he believes there is no looking back now. He shares that they have managed to maintain a steady stock of their products, despite reckoning with technical malfunctions as well as fluctuation in their labour numbers.

Published: 27-05-2019 06:30

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