11th Jun 2024 -

Facing bricks are traditionally manufactured through energy-intensive processes involving high-temperature firing of clay materials. However, innovative techniques and emerging technologies are paving the way for a greener future.

This article explores the latest methods and practices for facing brick production. From introducing recycled materials to adopting low-carbon production techniques, we discover the strategies of sustainable facing brick production. 

What are facing bricks made from?

Facing bricks are typically made from natural clay. This clay is extracted from the earth through mining or quarrying. In addition to clay, the production process incorporates small amounts of materials such as sand, iron oxide or manganese oxide. These materials influence the final colour, texture and properties of the bricks. 

The clay mixture is shaped into individual brick units. This is either through extrusion or moulding processes before undergoing a high-temperature firing process in a kiln. The firing process between 700-1100°C transforms the raw clay into a durable material. 

During firing, the clay undergoes chemical and physical changes. These changes include vitrification, which fuses the clay particles to create a dense structure.

What is the environmental impact of brick production?

The process of how brick is manufactured creates several environmental issues. From extracting raw materials to the energy-intensive fire process, each masonry production step contributes to a substantial ecological footprint. Here, we detail these significant problems.

Resource depletion and land degradation

Open-pit mining or quarrying operations for clay lead to land degradation and habitat loss in the areas surrounding mining sites. Plus, the extraction of clay often results in the removal of topsoil. This further boosts soil erosion and reduces the land's potential for alternative uses like agriculture. 

Greenhouse gas emissions

Firing bricks typically rely on the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas or oil. It contributes to the reduction of non-renewable energy resources and creates significant greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2). 

Air pollution and health impacts

Traditional brick kilns release various air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These emissions contribute to air quality degradation and pose health risks. For example, risks include respiratory issues, cardiovascular diseases and other adverse effects.

Water consumption and contamination

Brick production requires vast amounts of water for various processes, such as clay preparation, cooling and cleaning. This potentially strains local water resources and compromises the availability of clean water for other purposes. Also, improper management of wastewater from brick manufacturing facilities may lead to contamination of surface bodies.

Waste generation and disposal challenges

Brick manufacturing generates various types of waste, including unfired bricks, broken products and kiln residues. If not properly managed, these waste materials may contribute to land and water pollution, posing environmental and health risks. The disposal of waste from brick production can be challenging, particularly in areas with limited waste management systems. 

How to boost sustainable facing bricks production

Pallets of terracotta sustainable facing bricks on top of one another with plastic wrap around the pallets.

Facing bricks manufacturers are actively exploring sustainable alternatives to traditional production methods. By adopting innovative materials and eco-friendly practices, manufacturers will greatly enhance their sustainability credentials. 

Recycled and waste materials

A promising approach is the utilisation of recycled and waste materials as partial substitutes for newer materials. This reduces the reliance on finite natural resources and addresses waste management.

Industrial by-products, such as fly ash from coal-fired power plants, steel slag and construction and demolition waste, can be incorporated into the brick mixture, replacing a portion of the traditional clay content. 

These materials often possess pozzolanic properties, meaning they can react with calcium hydroxide to form cementitious compounds. This improves the strength and durability of the bricks. Also, recycled materials in brick production divert waste from landfills, promoting a circular economy and reducing the environmental impact. 

Sustainable raw material sourcing

Sustainable sourcing of raw materials further contributes to the eco-friendly production of facing bricks. For example, manufacturers may use alternative clay sources, such as mining tailings or naturally occurring clay deposits. They can reduce the need for extensive mining operations and mitigate land degradation.

Plus, materials like rice husk ash (RHA), sugarcane bagasse ash (SCBA) or sawdust, partially replace clay and fossil fuel-based sources. 

Energy-efficient manufacturing processes

Advancements in kiln technology and firing techniques have paved the way for energy-efficient brick production. Equipped with advanced heat recovery systems, modern kilns reduce energy consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Also, alternative firing methods including solar-powered kilns and using biomass or waste-derived fuels stop the reliance on non-renewable energy sources. 

Water conservation

Water is an essential resource in brick production. Responsible water management practices are crucial for enhancing sustainability. A manufacturer can implement water recycling and reuse systems, capturing and treating wastewater from various production stages for reuse.

In addition, using water-efficient technologies like low-flow nozzles and automated moisture control systems reduces overall water consumption. This minimises the strain on local water resources.

Sustainable mortar solutions

Beyond the bricks themselves, mortar also presents opportunities for enhancing sustainability. The traditional brick mortar mix ratio (usually 4:1) relies heavily on Portland cement, an energy-intensive and carbon-intensive material.

To address this issue, manufacturers can explore eco-friendly alternatives. These include lime-based mortars or mortars with supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) like fly ash and ground granulated blast-furnace slag. Alternatives reduce the overall embodied carbon footprint of the mortar when you lay facing bricks. 

3 benefits of sustainable facing bricks

The transition towards sustainable practices offers various benefits that extend beyond environmental issues. By embracing eco-friendly materials and processes, sustainable facing bricks can deliver superior performance. 

1. Enhanced durability and longevity

A primary benefit is their improved durability and longevity. Introducing SCMs enhances the long-term performance of bricks. They react with calcium hydroxide to form additional cementitious compounds, creating a dense and water resistant structure.

This increased density improves resistance to moisture and freeze-thaw cycles and contributes to overall strength. Sustainable facing bricks can withstand heavy loads, making them well-suited for a wide range of construction projects. They are also more resistant to cracking and impact damage.

2. Thermal and acoustic performance

Sustainable facing bricks offer improved thermal and acoustic insulation properties. Using lightweight aggregates or insulating materials like recycled foam or plant-based fibres boosts thermal resistance and reduces heat transfer. 

Also, adding porous materials or air pockets within the brick matrix can enhance sound-absorbing properties. This creates better acoustic insulation and reduces noise pollution. 

3. Reduced maintenance requirements

Improved durability and resistance to environmental factors may lead to reduced maintenance requirements. The denser structure, resistance to moisture and freeze-thaw cycles minimise the risk of cracking, spalling and other forms of deterioration.

Less frequent repairs or replacements mean lower maintenance costs, making sustainable facing bricks a more cost-effective solution. 

Facing bricks vs clay bricks: Which is more sustainable?

While facing and common clay bricks have similar production processes, there are differences in their potential for sustainable and eco-friendly practices.

CriteriaFacing BricksClay Bricks
Raw material sourcingUses recycled materials like construction waste, industrial by-products and agricultural residues.Rely solely on the extraction of finite clay resources from natural deposits.
Energy consumption and emissionsEnergy-efficient kilns, heat recovery systems and alternative firing methods like biomass or solar power.Clay brick production uses fossil fuels for firing, which leads to higher emissions.
Water usageIntroducing water conservation techniques, recycling and reuse of wastewater.Limited focus on water conservation and recycling.
Eco-friendly materialsAbility to incorporate SCMs like fly ash, slag and silica fume.Material use is limited to natural clay.
Waste generationWaste minimisation strategies and incorporation of recycled materials.Potential for high waste generation and limited recycling.
Versatility and designBetter versatility in colour, options such as grey facing bricks and red facing bricks.There are limited design options and aesthetics.
Durability and performanceEnhanced durability and performance due to denser structure and pozzolanic reactions with SCMs.Clay bricks have decent durability but may lack advanced performance properties.
CircularityAlignment with circular economy principles through material recycling.A limited focus on circularity and resource conservation.

How much can sustainable practices impact brick repair?

A bricklayer in a hi-vis vest wearing jeans and a navy jumper and gloves holding a tool for sustainable facing bricks construction.

As facing bricks embrace eco-friendly materials and innovative production methods, traditional brick repair will need to adapt for compatibility. Below, we explore the impact sustainable facing bricks have on brick wall repair techniques.

Compatibility with sustainable brick compositions

Recycled materials, SCMs and alternative raw materials potentially affect the compatibility and bonding performance of products like traditional brick repair filler. Manufacturers can explore developing brick mortar repair solutions and grouts tailored to the unique compositions of sustainable alternatives.

Innovative repair techniques

Sustainable facing brick production boosts the development of innovative repair technologies. For example, the use of 3D printing technologies may replicate damaged or missing brick components. This minimises the need for replacement and reduces material waste.

Also, advanced imaging and mapping technologies like laser scanning help with the accurate assessment of brick damage. It enables more targeted and efficient repair interventions.

Embracing preventative maintenance

Improved durability may also influence maintenance and repair strategies. With a focus on preventative maintenance, you can proactively monitor potential issues before they escalate. This reduces the need for extensive repairs and extends the lifespan of sustainable brick structures.

5 future trends for sustainable facing bricks

Eco-friendly facing brick production is likely to undergo changes driven by advancements in technology and materials. Here, we outline the trends expected to shape the future of sustainable facing brick manufacturing.

1. Bio-based and renewable materials

  • Increased use of agricultural residues like coconut fibre or bamboo reinforcements into brick compositions.
  • Adding natural materials for sustainability and boosting properties such as thermal insulation and lightweight construction.

2. Advanced additive manufacturing techniques

  • Widespread use of 3D printing and other manufacturing technologies.
  • Enabling precise control of materials used to minimise waste. 
  • Integrating insulating materials within brick structures for improved energy efficiency.

3. Smart materials and sensors

  • The emergence of "smart bricks" equipped with embedded sensors.
  • Real-time data on structural integrity, moisture levels and environmental conditions. 

4. Closed-loop recycling

  • Stronger emphasis on closed-loop recycling systems.
  • Recovery and reuse of brick waste to minimise the need for newer raw materials.
  • Minimising the environmental impact of brick production through circular practices.

5. Versatility and design flexibility

  • Continued focus on aesthetic customisation and unique design options.
  • Creating diverse textures, colours and shapes to meet demands.

Top-notch facing bricks for sustainable construction

At Building Materials Nationwide, we supply you with high-quality facing bricks from leading manufacturers. Our selection includes various styles to ensure you find the perfect match. Each brick is crafted to meet rigorous standards of durability and aesthetic appeal, providing long-lasting performance. 

Opening a trade account allows you to streamline the ordering process for sustainable facing bricks. Whether you buy grey, red, blue or yellow facing bricks, our account managers help you navigate our diverse brick range. Enjoy competitive trade pricing and speedy UK delivery options. Spend 2 minutes signing up now or contact the team today.

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