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Hubballi startup CarbonCraft is making tiles out of polluted air

Founded by Tejas Sidnal, CarbonCraft Designs is addressing climate change by developing carbon tiles using upcycled carbon for the construction industry.

Hubballi startup CarbonCraft is making tiles out of polluted air

Friday July 07, 2023 , 5 min Read

According to the Annual World Air Quality report released by IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company, India ranks eighth in the list of countries with the worst air quality index in 2023.

The report placed 12 Indian cities in the list of 15 most-polluted cities in Central and South East Asia. And, that’s not all. According to a Lancet Study in 2022, nearly 1.6 million deaths in 2019 were due to air pollution alone.

carboncraft

Tejas Sidnal

While the numbers continue to be stark and unforgiving, what can be done to offset the adverse effects of air pollution? How can we contribute to a more carbon-neutral world?

Let’s start with the homes we live in. As per a study, the construction sector contributes to 23% of global air pollution, and around 50% of total climate change. In a fast-developing economy like India, where growth is paramount, how do we offset the effects of climate change?

Hubballi-based startup CarbonCraft is doing its bit towards carbon-negative homes by starting with a ubiquitous material in the industry–tiles. Understanding the need for architectural intervention, Tejas Sidnal started Carbon Craft Design in 2016. The company started manufacturing tiles made from upcycled carbon, the first-of-its-kind in the world, in 2020, three months before the pandemic hit India.

Building carbon negative homes

An architect by training, Sidnal, who graduated from the LBH College of Architecture in Mumbai, became quite excited by biomimicry as a strategy. According to the Biomimicry Institute, Biomimicry is a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies from nature to solve human design challenges. Wanting to learn more about the subject, he enrolled for a master’s in emergent technologies and design in London.

“I learned three important aspects as part of the course–various materials, their strengths, weaknesses; what the material can do, and how it can be utlised. The third aspect is computational design that involves design using tools to control parameters of a material but one that takes inspiration from nature’s strategies,” he says.

After completing his course and a job stint in China, Sidnal returned to India in 2015 with a lingering question in mind--can one really build carbon negative homes?

To address this problem, he decided to start from scratch by building materials that would contribute towards a carbon-negative home.

“In 2015, we started the journey to see how we can curb air pollution because it’s the single most carbon-emitting industry right now. I began with a brick by taking waste from factories but realised no one would pay the premium. A brick costs Rs 4, and even if it cost Rs 4.50, no one would buy it. It was not be a scalable idea,” he says.

He then realised people would pay for design–so he built a façade from carbon, but it didn’t offer much commercial viability.

In 2018, he pivoted to what he thought would be both scalable and make commercial sense-- the tile, a single element that is needed in the construction of homes, offices, and buildings.

A building material from carbon waste

tejas sidnal

CarbonCraft initially started procuring solid carbon waste from recycling factories where it is usually stored in tanks, and then burned and dumped into soil or water bodies, creating water and soil pollution. The startup also started working with farmers’ groups, convincing them not to burn stubble but process it in a machine for a carbon-rich byproduct. The third source was particulate matter captured directly from air or the source, which is minuscule and difficult to standardise.

CarbonCraft makes tiles using a four-stage proprietary process–collect, process, build, and cure. Carbon black and industrial waste or carbon dioxide through direct air capture partners is collected and used along with marble chips, powder, stone, quarry dust, some amount of cement, and processed in CarbonCraft’s facility in Hubballi in Karnataka. This is later sent to a tile factory in Morbi, Gujarat where artisans use a 200-year-old handcrafting technique to build tiles. These are then “cured” for six hours by storing the captured carbon.

“We have applied for patents on both the material and the process, and have so far done deployments in eight cities for 13 clients. These include eight stores for Adidas. We have worked with $125,000 we received in grants from various organisations,” Sidnal says.

The tiles are priced at Rs 175 per sq ft for plain, and patterned tiles cost Rs 300 per sq ft. Sidnal says the prices are high because Carbon Craft is a capex heavy company and will only be able to disrupt the market with competitive prices if it can scale up quickly.

“One of the challenges we continue to face is building a mindshare around eco-friendly building materials like tiles. And, if we want to increase capacity and scale up, we need more equipment, machinery, and R&D in one place, and it’s a huge capital risk, which investors are wary about,” he adds.

However, he believes corporate organisations that are environment, social, and governance-driven (ESG) and are serious about reaching their goals will have to showcase a carbon-negative impact. Even builders are keen, and Sidnal believes that even if they use half a percent of their entire area while building millions of square feet, it would make a huge difference.

Last year, Sidnal was featured in National Geographic’s ‘One for Change’ series as one of the exceptional change makers who are making our planet a better place to live in.

So far, the startup has sold 10,000 sq ft of tiles, and prevented 10 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

The idea is to bring down the price of CarbonCraft tiles to Rs 100 per sq ft, and in the long run, licence the technology to existing players who have a value chain in place.

“Our aim is to become the “Apple” of building materials–these could be aggregates, panels, blocks, and everything in décor, contributing to a complete carbon negative home,” he says.


Edited by Megha Reddy