Before the concept of sustainability took on its current depth of meaning, Algoa Brick was already working towards reducing its resource consumption.

Algoa’s MD Nico Mienie, describes the company’s 15-year sustainability journey. It demonstrates his personal commitment to improve energy efficiency and sustainability in his business, and in the sector as a whole.

Nico is also Technical Director of the Clay Brick Association of Southern Africa, which has driven sustainability in the industry for the past 8 years.

Dematerialisation: lighter, perforated clay brick

A perforated clay brick has holes in the clay body. Although these bricks are much more difficult to manufacture, the shift to perforations provides a range of benefits for customers. Lighter bricks are cheaper to transport and easier to work with.

From a sustainability perspective, the lower mass of product means that less firing energy is needed. The greater surface area gives a more “even” burn so the brick can be fired faster.

High-efficiency oil burners

Back in 2005, Algoa Brick undertook its first big energy-efficiency step with the refit of our tunnel kiln. One of the biggest jobs was to replace an outdated and unserviceable heavy furnace oil firing system with a newer oil firing system.

Then in 2016 we replaced a section of the oil firing system with higher efficiency oil burners supplied by Bernini Impianti. We were proud to be the first brick manufacturer in South Africa to be approved for the 12L incentive due to the improved energy efficiency of the new burners..

In 2018, unpredictable oil prices pushed us to consider energy alternatives. Our remaining 2005-vintage oil firing system was replaced with a biomass-friendly firing system also supplied by Bernini.

“This system is designed to allow co-firing with a percentage of biomass in the coal. The new system worked well from inception and it wasn’t long before we were able to achieve a stable firing fuel breakdown of around 65% coal, 30% oil and 5% biomass.

Switching to biomass fuel

Our biomass is sawdust produced from the processing of waste wood – much of which would have ended up in landfill.

The operation of obtaining waste wood and processing it into a useful format took a while to get up to speed but once the teething issues were resolved, it became apparent that there was scope to push the sustainability envelope.

Due to their experience with our firing system, Bernini were again approached to supply a biomass burning system capable of firing a full zone of the tunnel kiln. In combination with locally fabricated equipment, the new installation was commissioned in November 2020.

Algoa Brick is now achieving a firing fuel breakdown of approximately 60% coal, 20% oil and 20% biomass.

“Running the tunnel kiln at an output of up to 280t/day of fired ware, Algoa Brick is currently sourcing 20% of its firing energy demand from renewables and is expects to increase to 30% in the near future. Tomorrow’s legacy

Algoa Brick takes pride in its water saving and leadership of sustainable firing in the South African clay brick industry. However the greater satisfaction lies in the legacy the company leave for its descendants.

Reducing process water usage

Algoa Brick’s factory site does not have a water-borne sewerage service so all sewage must be trucked away. More then 95% of the company’s water “waste’ is actually grey water. Although the cost of municipal water was relatively insignificant, the recycling of grey water for use in brick production provided Algoa Brick with significant sewerage cost savings despite the investment in the holding tanks and transfer pumps.

With the grey water investment bearing fruit, the onset of water scarcity in the Nelson Mandela Metro area provided a significant driver to step up water saving measures. To reduce Algoa Brick’s risk of a water crisis, they embarked on a multi-faceted water management programme using:

  • rain water harvesting
  • grey water recycling
  • process water holding tanks with a transfer pump system

Rain water harvesting and grey water recycling are sufficient under normal conditions. The 60,000l capacity process water holding tanks are filled by a waste services company as and
when suitable waste water streams are available. These waste streams include inorganic contamination in water such as traces of oil or solvents or the presence of organic waste such as waste fruit juice or tank washings.