Murray Rattana-Ngam and Dr. Matthias Frederichs

Brick and tile industry relies on targeted research and development

Scientific and technical progress as well as the rapid practical application of any knowledge gained are decisive for economic success – today more than ever. Murray Rattana-Ngam, Chairman of the Board of the Institut für Ziegelforschung Essen e. V. (IZF) – Brick and Tile Research Institute, Regd, and Dr. Matthias Frederichs, General Secretary of the Federal German Association of the Brick and Tile Industry Regd and the Research Association of the industry spoke about the significance of research and development for the German brick and tile industry.

How important is research and development for the brick and tile industry?

M.F.: Extremely important, and our industry is well positioned in this respect. The investment ratio of the brick and tile industry is around five percent. By comparison, the manufacturing industry spends between three and four percent on it. Research and development is carried out both directly in the companies and beyond, for example within the framework of the German Federation of Industrial Research Associations (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der industriellen Forschungsgemeinschaften – AiF). In this way, we participate in public research funding. In our view, the long-term focus is on optimizing energy-intensive production and leveraging further potential for reducing CO2 emissions.

M.R.N.: I can only underline that. The brick and tile industry has been operating its own research facility, the Institut für Ziegelforschung Essen e. V. (IZF), since 1952. 18 of the total of 21 employees are scientifically active, working in the institute’s facilities, in laboratories and on test stands. Since 1969, the IZF has completed almost 100 research projects in the field of energy efficiency, about 20 in the last ten years alone. The members of the supporting association are companies in the heavy clay industry, plant construction as well as industrial and trade associations. In my function as Managing Director of the Bellenberg brick plant, I took over the honorary office of Chairman of the Board in 2017.

What does the IZF do and what are your current priorities?

M.R.N.: We are committed to the topics that affect the industry as a whole, ranging from raw material exploration to process and environmental technology to component testing. Research is carried out on both the raw material and process side, for example to significantly improve product and process properties or even develop new ones. At the same time, construction-physical properties such as thermal, acoustic and moisture behaviour are evaluated. We make the results available to all members of the association.

Our focus is clearly on reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions. One example: gas is usually used for drying and firing the bricks. We have tested a process with new types of burners at our plant in Bellenberg and the results achieved have far exceeded expectations. In addition to lower energy consumption, with savings of up to 15%, product properties have also been improved. Anyone interested is welcome to come and see for themselves. The resulting new technology is already offered by a renowned plant manufacturer.

We are also working intensively on the question of how hydrogen can be used as a fuel.

M.F.: Environmentally friendly and energy-efficient brick building materials require a continuous increase in energy efficiency in production. Our industry has been working successfully on this for decades. In view of the energy turnaround, the main aim is to replace natural gas as a resource-saving transitional technology with renewable energy sources in the long term. One step in this direction is, for example, the decoupling of kiln and dryer, which makes it possible to combine different energy sources. The increased use of waste heat from thermal post-combustion is also an issue. In addition, there is a number of other possibilities for energy saving and emission avoidance, which are being intensively researched.

The brick and tile industry is rather dominated by medium-sized companies. How does the exchange between the IZF and the stakeholders on site take place?

M.R.N.: Topics and focal points are identified jointly, with project partners and in committees, for example in the AiF. Apart from transparency, mutual understanding is also important. Not all our partners are scientists or technicians. So what we do and which projects are given priority must be comprehensible for them, too. These projects are accompanied by company representatives, interim results are reviewed, and decisions are made on how to proceed. In addition, we organize the IZF seminar every year, exchange ideas with those involved in the industry, provide information and receive feedback. The next event is planned for 29 and 30 September 2020 in Essen.

In addition, we offer intensive and direct on-site consultation for the transfer of know-how.

What other cooperations are there?

M.R.N.: For example, we maintain close relations with the Institute for Applied Building Research in Weimar (Institut für Angewandte Bauforschung Weimar), the Institute for Fluid Mechanics and Thermodynamics (Institut für Strömungstechnik und Thermodynamik) at the Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg, the Research Institute for Inorganic Materials – Glass/Ceramics – GmbH (Forschungsinstitut für Anorganische Werkstoffe – Glas/Keramik – GmbH) in Höhr-Grenzhausen, the Institute for Kiln Construction (Institut für Ofenbau) at the RWTH Aachen University and, via Tiles and Bricks Europe (TBE), with European brick manufacturers. The problems and focal points of research are similar and connect, know-how is exchanged. In addition, there is project-related cooperation with universities on an international level, such as the Ghent University of Applied Sciences. As a member of the German Industrial Research Association Konrad Zuse (Zuse Community), which represents the interests of independent, privately organized research institutions, the IZF maintains intensive contacts with other research institutions. We regularly present our projects and results at trade fairs and conferences. The international network extends to Israel, Russia and even to Bangladesh.

Which tasks do you consider to be most urgent?

M.R.N.: As Chairman of the Board of the IZF and at the same time an entrepreneur, I am concerned about the lack of skilled workers, both in vocational training and in the academic world. We must do something to ensure that our industry, its potential and the diverse career opportunities it offers are more present and better perceived by young people in the future. That is why we are working on closer cooperation with educational institutions, including institutionalized cooperation where appropriate. The planned opening of a branch of the IZF, for example at the Technical College for Ceramics in Höhr-Grenzhausen, is a first step in this direction.

M.F.: For the companies, competitive framework conditions in raw materials, environmental and energy policy are particularly important in order to secure industrial production in Germany in the long term. In addition, openness to technology is the order of the day, especially in public tenders. This applies to support programmes for emission reduction as well as to the question of how we want to build in the future. In view of the considerable challenges in energy-efficient and affordable construction, we should refrain from distorting the market in favour of certain construction methods.

Bundesverband der Deutschen Ziegelindustrie e. V.


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