Greening India’s Growth through Alternative Technologies

India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. It has reached a growth of 5.4% during the third quarter of 2021-22 as compared to China’s 4.9% (NSO, 2022; EFE, 2021). This comes after a worldwide slowdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The worst seems over, and the economy is recovering fast. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forecast a 9.0% growth for the full fiscal (Business Standard, 2022). It is the sixth-largest economy in the world with an estimated GDP of 3.25 trillion USD (nominal) going by the IMF’s 2022 estimates.

Projections by the Center for International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School show that India will continue to sustain its economic growth over the next couple of decades keeping the 7% mark (Dani and Subramanian, 2004). This is contrary to the continued slowdown of China pegged at 4.3%. According to PwC’s ‘The World in 2050’ report, by 2050, India will be the second-largest economy in the world after China, overtaking even the USA (PwC, n.d.). Thus, India has the greatest potential of becoming the emerging market to the leading economies of the world. This sustenance of growth will be mainly due to the emerging youth population of India. All of them will not be employed, but some will engage in self-employment through the creation of small and micro-enterprises. Their employment will ensure a greater share of revenues to the government in the form of taxes and other social exchanges, building the blocks of the country’s growth.

Most of the economic growth in India will be in the services and manufacturing sectors. The other sectors of importance will be the mining and quarrying, electricity, gas and water supply, construction, and transport. Importantly, the growth of the agriculture sector (the largest contributor to the Indian economy) will be stagnant with no sign of rapid acceleration. This will be sustained due to the government policies such as the Make-in-India campaign to promote India as the most important and emerging hub for manufacturing.

Whereas the economic growth signs are positive riding on the manufacturing sector, questions arise on the issue of raw material availability for driving the growth. The major and critical raw materials to cater to the manufacturing sector and infrastructure growth are steel, coal, cement, sand, and aggregates, to name a few.

To fuel the growth of the country, one of the major raw materials is coal. This is used as a basic raw material for power generation and also for producing steel, cement, and other processed goods. Reports have predicted that India has enough coal to last for centuries. However, as per a report by Planning Commission, if all inferred reserves also materialise then coal and lignite can last for over 140 years at the current rate of extraction (GoI, 2006). But, if the country has to sustain the projected economic growth rate, then the total extractable coal reserves will last only 45 years.

With the total resources of over 33.276 billion tonnes of haematite (Fe2O3) and magnetite (Fe3O4), India is one of the leading producers of iron ore in the world (GoI, 2020). The future, however, looks quite bleak with the estimated life of the total reserve at 20–25 years (considering the increased rate of economic growth). This might be extended in the future with an emphasis on the import of high-grade ore from neighboring countries.

Limestone is one of the major raw materials for producing cement, quicklime, and other building materials. It is one of the most abundant minerals in earth across countries and geographies. However, it is also one of the most abundantly mined minerals. The majority of the limestone is used in cement manufacturing. Although India has quite a substantial reserve of limestone which is estimated to be 2,03,224 million tonnes, the processing of limestone into cement raises issues of direct CO2 emissions (GoI, 2021).

Thus, to sustain the growth of the country in a sustainable manner, the following two issues become important:

  • Availability of natural resources for the future generation

  • Development without degrading the environment

This requires a paradigm shift from the usual nature of doing business or production using standard processes and techniques. Whereas the business profits and goals need to be kept in mind, the issues of environmental degradation and resource availability are of prime concern. This is applicable to any business looking at long-term goals, profitability, and sustainability.

Development Alternatives have been working for the last three decades on developing technologies that minimise the use of virgin natural resources and are also less polluting, reducing the use of energy. This has been made possible through the use of industrial and process waste materials and their value addition to realise improved profits through reuse and recycling.

The four recently developed technologies worth mentioning here to provide an example to large, medium, and small enterprises in defining new ways of doing business without degrading the environment and increasing the life of the natural materials we have are as follows:

Use of foundry waste slag for building materials
This technology has been developed to use the waste foundry slag and casting sand in producing plain cement concrete (PCC)-based building materials of comparable quality. The waste foundry slag is crushed in required aggregate sizes and used to replace natural stone aggregates to produce building materials, for example, paving blocks, kerbstones, etc. Research is also going on to use the foundry slag in specialised applications as an additive to concrete. A couple of enterprises have also demonstrated their financial viability.

Use of marble sludge waste in handmade paper and construction
Rajasthan alone produces around 12 million tonnes of marble sludge waste per year (Pappu, Chaturvedi, & Tyagi, 2020). Most of this waste is concentrated in a couple of districts, creating enormous environmental pollution, especially in the summer months. Based on the research and development carried out at Development Alternatives, it has been found that the marble sludge waste can be an important raw material for making normal paper. The marble sludge has the right particle size and whiteness for producing a quality paper of any GSM. Alternatively, the marble sludge can be used as a valuable raw material to replace virgin topsoil in making fired clay bricks. It can also be an important raw material for making ternary blended cement. Support is needed from the state government and agencies to demonstrate these technologies on a commercial scale.

Recycling of construction and demolition waste as a replacement for natural aggregates
According to the Building Material Promotion Council (BMPTC), India generates an estimated 150 million tonnes of construction and demolition (C&D) waste every year. Today, all of this waste is either going to landfills or dumped in rivers and lakes in an unauthorized manner to reclaim lands for construction. Products have been developed by utilising processed C&D waste in developing PCC-based products. Emphasis has been placed on using them in building materials since these are prime areas of bulk use. On-site tests of performance and durability are being carried out to determine the usage of reinforced concrete cement also.

Development of low-carbon cement
Cement is one of the global economy’s most carbon-polluting industries. Responsible for about 8% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2015, if it were ranked with individual countries, the cement industry would be the third-largest greenhouse-gas emitter in the world behind only China and the United States (Lehne & Preston, 2018). It is a paradox; concrete is one of the construction materials with the lowest environmental impact known to man, yet the sheer quantity of it produced worldwide puts it among the top contributors to anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

Moreover, consumption is set to rise dramatically in the coming decades as developing and emerging countries follow their development paths. This creates two main challenges for the future, which are:

  • How can current resources meet the projected increasing demand?

  • How can the environmental impact (CO2 emissions) of this production increase be mitigated?

The majority (60%) of CO2 emissions associated with classical cement production come from the decarbonisation of limestone (“chemical” CO2) during the production of clinker – the main ingredient of cement. The most effective strategies to reduce environmental impact lie in reducing the clinker content of cement.

The limestone calcined clay cement (LC3) being developed looks at the synergetic effect of clinker substitution by a combination of calcined clays and limestone (which is the LC3 technology). It allows a reduction of up to 60% clinker to obtain cement with similar properties of ordinary portland cement. The calcined clay used is of non-ceramic/refractory grade unfeasible for use by the conventional ceramic industries and thus does not have a resource conflict. With the current clinker production facilities, the amount of cement can be increased by a factor of 2 – with only marginally increased investments. At the same time, LC3 is cheaper than ordinary portland cement. The LC3, thus, in fact, is a low-carbon cement and is a very attractive and feasible strategy to satisfy both development and environmental objectives.


Dr. Soumen Maity

The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Development Alternatives. 

This blog first appeared as an editorial in Development Alternatives Newsletter April, 2022

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