Author – Mohammad Umar
The cement industry is the second-largest polluting industry in the world, generating around 2.8 billion tons of greenhouse gases every year. This contributes to about 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have led to some serious environmental problems such as global warming. There is an urgent need to find alternatives to industrial cement and reduce its harm.
The Idea: Light-transmitting concrete
Ramansh Bajpai, a UP-based civil engineer, understood the importance of the cement industry in India as well as its harmful impact on the environment. While pursuing B.Tech. from the University of Petroleum & Energy Studies, Dehradun in 2013, he was searching for an innovative solution and came across ‘LitraCon’. This company produces light-transmitting concrete, which can be utilized as a new green building material.
Ramansh told Ecoideaz that initially he was fascinated to find such a product. As he began to do some in-depth research, he became more interested in the topic and decided to take up this topic as his final year project. Later, while pursuing his master’s in Environmental Science from Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur, he continued working on this innovative idea. Ramansh decided to take it one step further by developing an eco-friendly alternative to concrete in an attempt to reduce CO2 emissions.
The Product: Translucent geopolymer concrete
This eco-friendly alternative translucent geopolymer concrete has many qualities to support its claim. The cement present in the concrete mixture has been partially replaced with Ground Granulated Blast-furnace Slag (GGBS), which is a waste product of the iron & steel industry. This solves waste-management problems associated with furnace slag, while reducing the carbon footprint of cement use.
The concrete mixture also contains plastic optical fibers that provide the translucent effect to the product without compromising strength. The concrete’s translucent property allows light to enter buildings without adding heat from the walls. In a developing country like India, where construction projects are taking place all over cities and rural areas, this product could be used instead of regular concrete or bricks.
The walls can transmit up to 13% of the incident light, depending on the number of optical fibers used. This will enable greater energy saving and reduction in electricity bills, as there would be no need for lights during the day. This product reportedly claims to cut electricity costs by almost 30%. Furthermore, a reduction in electricity requirements would indirectly reduce CO2 emissions from primary sources of electricity generation. Ramansh adds that this translucent geopolymer concrete can be used for commercial buildings as well as small houses.
This eco-friendly product comes as a relief for those who live in slums, where the concrete used is of poor quality and people cannot afford to pay their electricity bills. Ramansh claims that this translucent geopolymer concrete is 15% stronger, 5% lighter and costs 15% less than other competitors of the same. In areas with closely-packed buildings, this product can only be used for rooftops and window panels to allow enough natural light into the houses.
The entrepreneurial struggle
Speaking with Ecoideaz, Ramansh shared the story of his difficult entrepreneurial journey right from extensively researching the idea, to implementing the pilot project, and finally creating a finished product. Many of his prototypes failed during the developmental stages. Sometimes the strength of the product would be lower than desired, while the other times the transmission of light through the material was not satisfactory. After months of hard work and experimentation, he finally found the correct composition of plastic optical fibers, GGBS, cement, and sand. He is grateful to his mentor Dr. Deepesh Singh who assisted and guided him throughout the entire project.
While the main objective of developing a light-transmitting concrete has been achieved, but the project is not complete yet. The product requires further testing and analysis, which requires more investment. Ramansh has spent all his savings on the product R&D so far but it is hard to proceed further without investors at this stage. These investments could help him commercialize the product.
There are a few issues with the commercial scaling of the product. The casting of translucent concrete is difficult for laborers as compared to regular concrete, therefore, specially-skilled labor would be required for this job. The product is in the pilot phase and is undergoing the process for patent approval. The cost of geopolymer concrete currently stands out INR14 per block, while translucent concrete cube cost depends on the percentage of plastic optical fibers used. The ratio can vary from 1-5% volume of cube, resulting in the final cost of around INR15-21 per block or cube.