From waste to bricks

2016-10-23 06:00
Brick by brick Fly Ash, a by-product of coal-burning industries, is being used for bricks, paint and as roadfill. Photo: Sizwe Sama Yende

Brick by brick Fly Ash, a by-product of coal-burning industries, is being used for bricks, paint and as roadfill. Photo: Sizwe Sama Yende

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Young entrepreneurs are using hazardous waste of millions of tons produced every year by coal-burning industries in Mpumalanga in a lucrative brick-making business venture.

The Govan Mbeki Fly Ash Consortium in Secunda has started a factory that uses fly ash from petrochemical and synthetic gas company, Sasol, to make bricks.

Situated on a farm between Secunda and eMbalenhle, the factory known as Mr Brick – which operates a few kilometres north of Sasol’s smoke-and-fume-belching plant – produces 6 500 hollow and stock bricks per week from the fly ash sourced from Sasol.

Fly ash is a waste by-product of the burning of coal for power and gasification. It contains toxins and metals and may be hazardous to humans and the environment
when it leaches into underground water.

Last year, Eskom burnt 119 tons of coal that produced 34.4 tons of fly ash, while Sasol produced about 10 tons of the ash through its production lines in the same year.

“We buy 1 000 tons from Sasol at about R20 000 a month and produce hollow-block and maxi bricks,” said the managing director of the Govan Mbeki Fly Ash Consortium, Bayanda Maseko.

Mr Brick has created 28 job opportunities and directorships for 10 young people from four small, medium and micro enterprises that merged to form the consortium.

Maseko said Mr Brick supplies to big construction companies, hardware store owners and individuals.

“The demand is so huge; we sometimes turn away potential clients. If we can employ people and remove the waste from the environment, it’s a win-win situation,” he said.

Mpumalanga is teeming with power utility Eskom’s coal-powered stations and a massive Sasol plant.

They both produce millions of tons of fly ash every year from burning coal.

These mounds have formed artificial mountains that have changed the landscape in the province.

Residents in the province have witnessed fly ash dumps rising for the past decades without the by-product being useful for anything.

The dumps posed a danger, particularly during windy and dusty days, as inhaling the dust could lead to lung disease.

The largely agricultural Mpumalanga population has also had to bear its impact on the environment as it affected their arable agricultural land.

Mr Brick is believed to be a partial solution in dealing with this by-product, which mixes the fly ash with cement, and water, producing durable bricks. When making paving bricks, they also add a bit of crusher and building sand.

The project began as a result of talks between the Mpumalanga economic development department, the Govan Mbeki municipality and Sasol.

Economic development MEC Eric Kholwane said a study had been commissioned to explore what more the fly ash could be used for.

“Bricks are the easiest, but the study has so far indicated that this ash, which becomes rubbish to companies like Sasol and Eskom, could be used in fertilisers, paint and as roadfill.

“The use of this by-product is part of the province’s industrialisation plan that will unlock business opportunities,” Kholwane said.

The MEC said that similar projects were being planned near Kusile and Majuba power stations, where fly ash dumps were also produced.

“We want to involve community cooperatives and find ways to link these initiatives to government’s construction programmes,” Kholwane said, adding that the dumps had not yet become a health hazard in the province, but that the artificial mountains they created were instead a “nuisance”.

Read more on:    sasol

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