The theme for this year’s Earth Day, celebrated on 22 April, is one that now resonates with everyone— restoring the planet. Over the past year, the pandemic has changed the way we live. And the effects of climate change have only intensified their grip.
2020 saw carbon dioxide levels hit record high levels, despite the lockdowns related to covid-19 worldwide. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the lockdown-related fall in emissions has proven to be just a tiny blip.
It’s clear that the same speed shown in developing vaccines for covid-19 is needed for adopting emerging green technologies and innovative thinking to restore the world’s ecosystems. These two aspects are a key part of this year’s Earth Day theme.
In keeping with the theme, Lounge looks at two initiatives in carbon upcycling and air pollution.
UPCYCLING CARBON: Carbon Craft Design
Imagine a house tile that could sequester the pollution of 30,000 litres of air or be equivalent to preventing 15 minutes of car pollution. Carbon Craft Design, a Goa-based design and material innovation startup, is making such tiles in various sizes and patterns from upcycled carbon.
“We started with bricks and facades but we found more design value in tiles,” says Tejas Sidnal, the founder of the startup. “The goal is to make a completely carbon-negative tile,” he says on the phone. Sidnal’s company collects captured carbon from tyre-recycling facilities and agricultural waste centres. This is then processed to design the “Carbon Tile”.
Sidnal, an architect by training, started Carbon Craft Design in 2016. The 33-year-old has always been interested in biomimicry, taking inspiration from nature to create systems and solutions. “I have always looked at clean food, clean air and clean water within the architectural realm. I wanted to work on one of these three streams. When I started to dig for information, I realised that as architects, we contributed to 39% of energy-related carbon emissions,” he explains. “That was the trigger to start something around air pollution.”
Once the carbon is collected, it is processed at the company’s facility in Dharwad, Karnataka. Artisans in Morbi, Gujarat—one of the country’s biggest tile-manufacturing hubs—make the tiles. “A single tyre-recycling factory generates close to 1.5 million kilogram of carbon waste,” Sidnal says.
The tiles, available in plain and patterned designs, are customisable, with prices starting from around ₹300 per sq. ft. These upcycled carbon tiles have been used by sportswear brand Adidas for three of its stores in Mumbai and Sidnal says multiple brands have shown interest.
But it continues to be a work in progress. “These tiles are still not carbon-negative. The carbon footprint is still there (there are energy-related emissions in the tile-making process). That is what the problem is. We want to go completely down. The vision of the company is to make cities cleaner. For that, we have a mission of making carbon-negative homes,” he adds.
So the company has begun experimenting in other material domains, such as using carbon dioxide in architecture—sequestering the CO2 into a house and storing it—and working with particulate matter.
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CLEAN COOKING AND HEATING: Himalayan Rocket Stove project
In 2014, Russell Collins, founder-director of the Himalayan Rocket Stove (HRS) project, a social enterprise that makes clean-burning wood combustion stoves, met Indian innovator Sonam Wangchuk. “We were discussing rocket stoves and I decided to look into this further. I began researching and building prototypes back in Australia through 2015-16,” says Collins, 50, an Australian who has been visiting India since 1992.
Rocket stoves mix air and burning gases in a vertical, insulated combustion chamber, with temperatures rising to a point where smoke is oxidised and converted to heat energy. It’s efficient and burns cleanly.
A grant from the Dykes Family Charitable Trust in the US enabled him to hone the prototypes in Ladakh. In end 2016, he was able to place 25 units into homes for testing. “As a result of feedback in early 2017, I did a major redesign and went to market in September 2017 with the Eco1 Rocket Stove,” he says on email.
The HRS addresses two key areas: household air pollution and tree felling. The wood combustion stove design can be used both for cooking and heating, and uses 50% less wood than a traditional chulha. Collins claims that it is helping to reduce pollution levels in the Himalaya. “HRS has initially focused on the issues of ambient air pollution, black carbon and deforestation that comes from inefficient combustion in home space heaters.”
So far, they have sold over 4,000 combustion heaters in India, Nepal and Bhutan. And they are also testing new products: domestic and institutional cook stoves, improved tandoors, a tent heater for camps in high remote locations, including at army bases.
“We are also working on fast-tracking waste biomass fuels into the supply chain for combustion heating and cooking,” says Collins. These will reduce impacts on forest resources, while offering a cost-effective, clean and efficient energy source for cooking and heating. What’s more, he says, they will also reduce the pollution from agricultural burn-off in north India at the end of harvest season.
Also read: Scientists find more clues to estimate Earth's carbon budget