Bricks and other ceramics are fired in large kilns at the Nova Dutra, São Silvestre and Vila Nova Ceramics factories in Brazil, state of Rio de Janeiro, in the cities of Pinheiral, Rio Bonito, and Itaborai, respectively. Historically, the kilns were heated to a whopping 900ºC with heavy oils.

Starting back in 2004, Carbono Social Serviços Ambientais Ltd. saw an opportunity to update the ceramics factories’ unsustainable practices for the better. The VCS and SOCIALCARBON standards certified Nova Dutra, São Silvestre and Vila Nova Fuel Switching Project helped the factories convert from using fossil fuels as inputs to using post-processing wood products. The kilns were converted to use industrial and construction wood byproducts such as wood chips and sawdust, as well as quick-growing elephant grass. Excepting the elephant grass, these fuels come from nearby industry. This switch in fuel source not only reduces carbon emissions, but also creates more closed loop industrial systems in the region.  

At its inception, the project also represented a regional innovation, in a sector resistant to change and normally unconcerned with the environment. While the switch reduces carbon outputs and improves functioning, it is more expensive, which is why the project needed to rely on carbon credits to cover the high upfront cost of the conversion, which included adapting machinery to the new fuel and contracting new employees to run the new equipment. Over the 10 years of the project’s crediting period, they have issued around 130,000 VCUs for trade on the voluntary market, the equivalent of emissions from 300,000 barrels of oil.

Social Carbon’s fuel switching project reminds us that industrial processing isn’t just about chemicals, conveyor belts and big factories. Every day, smaller-scale products like simple kiln-fired bricks also contribute to emissions. With a little creativity and elbow grease, these industries also provide opportunities to reduce emissions and waste in production systems in the process.