Out of the ashes: UP student initiative helps brick makers build their businesses with a new resource: coal ash

Posted on June 19, 2019

A group of students at the University of Pretoria (UP) has established a community project to introduce an alternative resource, coal ash, to informal brick makers in Pretoria. Project Phoenix is being run in Mamelodi and aims to reduce the amount of coal ash being dumped at landfill sites, create employment and reduce production costs for brick makers in the area.

The project is part of Enactus UP, a programme at the university that harnesses entrepreneurial action to improve the standard of living of people in need, and is being run in association with the National Cleaner Production Centre of South Africa (NCPC-SA).

“As Enactus UP, we have also partnered with a polystyrene manufacturing company, which provides beneficiaries with coal ash for free,” said Sibusile Dlamini, coordinator of strategic partnerships at Project Phoenix. “NCPC-SA agreed to provide us with the quantitative figures in terms of the project.”

Coal ash, a by-product of burning coal, is an innovative resource for brick makers: not only is it more durable, but it has excellent insulating properties and is a more cost-effective option because less cement and crusher sand are used to produce bricks. A coal ash brick is of the same quality as a brick made of cement and sand.

Four informal brick businesses have benefitted from Project Phoenix thus far, with one being able to produce 30 000 coal ash bricks within four months and saving R117 000 on production costs.

As part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – more specifically Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities – and for quality purposes, the initiative intends to have the bricks tested by SDG testing facilities. 

Project Phoenix also hopes to assist beneficiaries by imparting skills such as financial literacy to ensure the sustainable advancement of their business.

To qualify as a beneficiary, informal businesses should: 

  • have enclosed land to work on
  • be a registered company or be willing to have their company registered
  • have access to water
  • be willing to use ash to produce bricks
  • have the minimum machinery to produce bricks (such as a brick cutter)

For more information click here.

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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