Construction: How a chemical company is driving affordability

By Victor Adar

That some of the things that tend to tear away the appetite of those who are interested on investing on high growth sectors like real estate include cost of construction, lack of an enabling framework as well as government policies that are perceived to be “weird”, more experts feel that it is only creativity, and a bit of innovation that will turn around things for the better. Real estate development is expensive. But is there an alternative when it comes to cutting down on costs?

According to Richard Kirimi, a construction systems manager at a chemical company, BASF East Africa, the day that the cost of capital that large scale investments attract will go down thanks to industrial energy efficiency solutions, will the dream of constructing affordable houses come true.

Mr Kirimi says that the first priority is to provide systems that interact with each other in order to provide a whole construction solution. The amount of consumption on the area of concrete, which is the key product of construction, must be reduced if the ever-increasing costs of putting up brick and mortar projects are to go down.

It is because of this scenario that BASF opened a concrete admixtures production facility in Mlolongo near Nairobi, a move that is expected to boost the construction industry. The plant produces custom-made concrete admixtures. And the good thing is that, cement and other concrete raw materials are locally sourced and used to custom-make the final product required by the client.

“We are very big on the area of green building, because the whole point of trying to reach sustainability is to help the environment by reducing carbon footprint. Mostly we are talking about carbon dioxide,” says Kirimi, adding that the fact that a majority of Kenyans are not financially well heeled to shoulder the high costs, real estate developers should change tact. 

In credit crunch where not only those into real estate development but also road construction find it tough to take up big contracts due to high costs of labour and materials, experts say that businesses can turn to new solutions. Production in plants like Bamburi, Lafarge, Athi River mining, Simba Cement or Mombasa cement involves crushing clinker. There are cement additives used to get the final product. Clinker, which is now the limestone, is ground and mixed with other additives, and as a result “it is now cement”.

“The other thing that happens when you grind those particles is repulsion, and a force of attraction… You have to put an additive to reduce that repulsion… These are the solutions that we are producing for the world… some of which are helping in reducing carbon foot prints,” he says. 

Construction consumes about 40% of the energy in the world. What it means is that it is a big consumer in terms of energy. Official statistics by BASF show that of all the emissions, 40% comes from the construction industry. This translates to about one cubic meter per person per annum. “That’s how much concrete we produce in the world. You can imagine… We are over 7 billion people right now, so we produce over 7 billion cubic meters of concrete per year. It tells you that we use a very big amount of cement for the construction process,” he says,

Using less cement by incorporating cement additives, which are basically chemicals that are put in the concrete to custom-make final product, is a new way that will help reduce the cost of production.

Further, plants that deliver concrete on tracks – from plant to the site through jams in Nairobi – is obvious by the time the concrete gets to the cite it will be rock. “It is either you put a chemical or you add water. But it’s a catch 22 situation, you put too much water, you spoil it. The admixtures are produced here. They are the chemicals that are put in concrete that in the end help in reducing the cost of construction,” says Kirimi.

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