Building a better future with cleaner bricks

Project completed
Workers packing the fired bricks
Workers packing the fired bricks from the VSBK at Langkloof Bricks. © Swisscontact Swisscontact

Clay brick production in South Africa produces large emissions of greenhouse gases due to the use of old, energy-inefficient clamp firing systems. To solve this problem SDC is supporting the South-South technology transfer of the Vertical Shaft Brick Kiln. This energy-efficient technology considerably reduces coal consumption and cuts CO2 emissions by half. The first pilot plant was inaugurated in September 2011 in Jeffrey’s Bay, Eastern Cape.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
South Africa
Climate change and environment
Employment & economic development
Biosphere protection
SME development
01.11.2013 - 31.10.2017
CHF 4'150'000

Clay brick manufacturing in South Africa is a modern state-of-the-art industry as far as clay mining and the production of “green” (unfired) bricks is concerned. However, bricks are still predominantly fired in inefficient clamp kilns, which date back to Roman times. Facing new environmental regulations, increasing coal costs and shrinking profits, South African brick entrepreneurs are actively looking for energy-efficient firing methods.

Working principles of the VSBK

The Vertical Shaft Brick Kiln (VSBK) is an energy-efficient brick oven, which origi-nated in China and was adapted and improved with support from SDC in India and Nepal. The kiln comprises a vertical shaft. The bricks are loaded at the top of the shaft and removed at the bottom in a continuous process.. The firing shaft is well insulated on all four sides to minimise heat loss. The hot exhaust gasses are used for the gradual preheating of the unfired bricks on top, thus reducing energy con-sumption and CO2 emissions by up to 50% compared to the more commonly used clamp kilns. The switch to VSBK technology signifies an important change in working conditions: instead of day shifts a 24-hour operation is introduced and workers’ skills are enhanced.

Finance for investment in VSBK

South Africa has been facing a severe financial crisis, which significantly affects the construction sector. Since the beginning of the crisis, clay brick production has been halved and the profit margins of the producers have practically disappeared. Impending environmental regulations will soon enforce the sourcing of cleaner, more energy-efficient brick firing methods. Confronted with these challenges, the VSBK project is facilitating access to “green funds” and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) market. The project supported the development and registration of a Programme of Activities that will generate Certified Emission Reductions to be sold on the CDM market.

Contribution to sustainable development

The VSBK project not only has a positive impact from an economical and environ-mental point of view, it also carries many significant social benefits:

  • Improved environmental, health and safety conditions
  • Skills development
  • Job creation
  • New opportunity for women

In contrast to traditional kilns, the VSBK emits virtually no gasses, thus benefitting workers’ health. The risks of falling from heights or of collapsing brick stacks are also greatly reduced with VSBK.  Proper use of the VSBK requires specific train-ing, allowing employees to improve their value on the job market.

This technology is not only expected to create a large number of jobs, these jobs will be physically less demanding. Thus women will be able to access other posi-tions within the brick factories.

100 shafts within four years

This project forms part of the Energy Efficiency Building Programme supported by SDC in South Africa. The project is implemented by a consortium of Swisscontact and Skat with active involvement of experts from India and Nepal.
It is estimated that over the next 5-10 years up to 50% of the brick enterprises will adopt this technology in South Africa. In the first four-year phase, the aim is to raise awareness among the brick entrepreneurs and the authorities. This should lead to the start of construction of 100 VSBK shafts with an annual production capacity of more than 180 million bricks. Emission of greenhouse gases will be reduced by 84’000 tons of CO2 per year.