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Upcycling carbon emissions into decorative indoor tiles.

Air pollution is a familiar environmental health hazard. We know what we’re looking at when brown haze settles over a city, or a plume rises from a smokestack. Some air pollution is not seen, but its pungent smell alerts you. It is a major threat to global health and prosperity.

Air pollution, in all forms, is responsible for more than 6.5 million deaths each year globally. This number has increased over the past two decades. While most of the world breathes unsafe air, shaving off two years of life expectancy, air pollution shortens the average life expectancy in India by 5 years.

The air shrouding India’s cities often contains dangerously high levels of fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, which has been linked to lung and heart disease and can impair cognitive and immune functions.

There are methods to capture pollution but the next big question is what to do with the resulting carbon. This carbon is either burnt or dumped polluting our air, land & water. This directed Carbon Craft Design to solely focus on the potential of carbon utilization as a long term vision. The Mumbai based startup, which was officially founded in January 2019, is working in collaboration with Air-Ink, a Boston-based startup that is processing the air pollutants and providing them with the soot to use in their innovation.

The company comprises of a group of Architects and Engineers developing carbon upcycling products. This unique cross collaboration mindset has helped the company understand and look for solutions beyond mainstream understanding of air pollution.

Tejas Sidnal is an architect and the founder of Carbon Craft Design who believes people in his profession have a responsibility to rid the world of air pollution.

While exhaust emissions have been tightly regulated for many years, waste tyre management is totally unregulated. Pyrolytic degradation of tyres is considered an alternate way to breakdown tyres to oil, steel wires and tyre pyrolysis waste called recovered carbon black (rCB). An estimated 1.5 lakh tonnes of this carbon waste are produced.

This waste is only burnt at cement kilns since there is no alternative-use case. This causes particulate matter air pollution. With the ever-increasing growth and demand for tyres for all types of vehicles especially Electric Vehicles, the result is humongous accumulation of waste tyres in India and other countries.

The recycling rate is low, and the discarding of discarded tyres is very serious, which has a certain impact on the environment. At present, about 20% of used tyres are not used, piled up for a long time, hard to degrade, and become a source of black pollution.

Carbon Craft Design is set out to find alternate ways to upcycle this carbon into new useful forms especially for the building and construction industry. Solving this problem of air pollution at scale is deeply instilled in their methodology. The carbon tile is the first tile to be made with upcycled carbon. Since this material is only used to be burnt at cement kilns, the idea is to create a positive impact by repurposing this material as a building resource. The company  aims to connect volume based waste management problems with the volume intensive material consuming industry. The larger intent is to foster a circular economy in the material supply and consumption.

They follow a 3-stage process to upcycle rCB which creates a positive climate impact. They repurpose this material as a building resource, thus preventing air pollution through carbon tiles. Tiles have had a historical significance in decorative spaces and artistic exhibitions. With the present day context, the company designed Carbon Tiles in order to commercialize environmental solutions. This is at the intersection of Craft, Design and Technology with the sole aim of building scalable solutions.

A product by Carbon Craft Design, the Carbon Tile is a medium to upcycle air pollution

The building & construction industry is the largest consumer of raw materials. It is responsible for 39% of total energy-related carbon emissions according to the World Green Building Council. If 1% of this industry consumed the waste rCB as a resource, it would prevent this waste from being used as a cheap fuel material. The annual global tile consumption is about 170+ billion sqft. India alone consumes 9+ billion sqft. In addition, India is the second largest producer of ceramic tiles in the world.

Tiles have become a necessity for both interior and exterior spaces. Production of 1 Carbon Tile is equivalent to preventing 5 kgCO2e. Each carbon tile is equivalent to cleaning 30,000 litres of air. Every sqft of Carbon Tile is equivalent to preventing the effect of 25 kgCO2e. An average apartment uses 500 sqft of tiles which can prevent over 12 tCO2e. One can imagine the scalability of climate action we can achieve by helping consumers to open up new choices like this. These carbon tiles are handcrafted and cost around Rs. 190 per sq. In comparison, vitrified tiles cost anywhere between Rs 50 and can go up to Rs 1000 per sq feet.

The entire process for manufacturing these tiles requires significantly less energy than the conventional tiles in the market.

Customers who are willing to buy the carbon tile can also get it customised as per their design requirements. However they have to pay extra for the stencil that needs to be made especially for this purpose. The stencil can cost anywhere between Rs. 5000 and 15,000. In case they want to avoid this cost, they can go for the 15 designs that the startup also has in their portfolio.

These tiles consume only one-fifth of the energy required to manufacture vitrified tiles, this means instead of burning the tiles to come up with the finished product the tiles are manufactured using a hydraulic press. All the heavy metals and harmful components are removed from the soot, following which, traditional craftspeople in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat handcraft the tiles that come in six monochromatic shades ranging from black, four shades of grey, and white. The soot is infused with materials like marble chips, marble powder, cement along with a proprietary binder. The tiles come in three sizes—8″x8″, 10″x10″, and 12″x12″.

Standardising the colour of the tiles is difficult to achieve because the pollution at every site won’t be the same. Consequently, when it is processed, there is a variation in the colour of the powder,however since the tiles are monochrome this issue can be dealt with

Every country has the waste management problem of waste tyres and its recovered carbon waste due to its no alternative-use case other than burning at kilns. In recent years, the Government has taken stringent steps and, in fact, banned a large number of pyrolysis plants to regulate the issue in certain states.There are several plans that Carbon Craft Design has for the future. To begin with, they are working on establishing networks with distribution channels abroad in places like Miami, Sri Lanka, Dubai, among other places.

As these tiles can only be used indoors, Tejas eventually hopes to start manufacturing outdoor tiles as well, along with other architectural products like light fixtures, home accessories, furniture, among others. The world population is very likely to reach 9 billion by 2050. This imposes tremendous dependency on the construction sector to accommodate the increasing population. To sustain, it is important for us to shift towards a circular economy.

 A render of how the tiles would look in a completed space.


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