Ceramic tiles are a common building material renowned for their resilience, adaptability, and aesthetic qualities. As with any other building material, the manufacture and disposal of ceramic tiles have a significant influence on the environment. To understand the environmental effect of the fabrication and use of ceramic tiles, it is crucial to undertake a full lifecycle analysis.
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Need for Lifecycle Analyses of Ceramic Tiles
Global urbanization is accelerating, and it is estimated that by 2050, up to 68 percent of the population will reside in urban regions. Cement, clay brick, ceramics, mortar, wood, plastic, and steel make up construction and demolition debris (CDW). The building sector has significantly contributed to the depletion of natural resources and has had profound effects on the environment; in 2019, 39% of worldwide CO2 emissions were attributable to the construction industry, with 11% due to the manufacturing of construction materials.
Environmental rules and regulations are growing stricter as the demand for ecologically efficient structures continues to increase. Innovation is closely tied to economic progress, yet it is frequently accompanied by environmental damage. Thus, the appropriate use of raw materials, the implementation of sustainable power, utilizing environmentally efficient materials, and the management of environmental pollution are challenges for businesses. Assessing environmental performance necessitates an effective evaluation method that takes various elements into account. As a result of eco-innovation, several studies have stressed the need for Life Cycle Assessments (LCA).
A Brief Introduction to Lifecycle Assessment Analysis
Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) are thorough assessments that look at the ecological footprint of a product across its whole life cycle, beginning with the extraction of raw materials and concluding with waste management. Other stages of the lifecycle, including manufacturing techniques and transportation, are also analyzed thoroughly. This instrument is used internationally to address global ecological consequences, taking into account a full product's service life. The ability to acquire quantitative carbon footprint findings associated with a product or service across its entire life cycle and to identify opportunities for improvement is one of the primary advantages of this technique.
Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) have become widely employed in the commercial ceramics sector to improve manufacturing system sustainability. As a result of this, life cycle assessment is now seen as a driving factor in government policy.
In general, three aspects are considered: environmental, socioeconomic, and natural resource protection. The rigorous analysis of any product leads to efficient resource consumption by employing the most effective approaches available in a certain sector. In addition, LCAs are frequently used throughout the value chain, affording the possibility to evaluate the consequences and origins of a product or process in a holistic manner.
The Ceramic Tile Industry
Spain and Brazil have contributed to the global doubling of the ceramic tile industry via the development of new products and production techniques. The industry has two basic manufacturing processes - dry processing and wet processing - with distinct outcomes. Ceramic tiles are made via shaping and glazing. Shaping requires raw materials, slurry, forming, and drying, while glazing requires purchasing raw ingredients, generating glaze-frit, grinding and polishing, applying glaze to the ceramic body, and firing.
MECS has released its global ceramic tile market projection for the next five years. According to the research 'Ceramic Tile Market Forecast Analysis - Trend 2021-2025', yearly production growth will average 5%. During the five years from 2021 to 2025, the global ceramic tile market is anticipated to expand at an average annual rate of 5% in terms of production (an extra 4.5 billion square meters by 2025) and 5.1% regarding consumption, culminating in a very minor rise in inventories.
The ecological impacts of ceramic tiles could be understood by reviewing their manufacturing processes. The manufacture of ceramic tiles entails a variety of complex procedures requiring accuracy and skill. First, the raw ingredients, which commonly consist of clay, feldspar, kaolin, and other minerals, are prepared. These substances are combined in precise amounts before being processed into a fine powder. The powder is then combined with water to create a slurry, which is subsequently poured into molds. Typically, plaster is used to construct the molds, and the slurry is allowed to cure and solidify within the molds.
When the tiles have been carefully removed from their molds, they undergo a procedure called firing. This is accomplished by heating the tiles to temperatures between 1,100 and 1,200 degrees Celsius in a kiln. During the firing process, the tiles become denser and more durable, and any residual moisture is pushed away.
Following the fire, the tiles are examined for quality and, if necessary, glazed. Glazing includes putting a thin coating of liquid glass on the tile's surface, followed by a second firing to fuse the glaze to the tile's surface. This provides a smooth, waterproof surface to the tile and can also add aesthetic features.
During the process of heating, several gases are emitted, which include large quantities of greenhouse gases. These gases contribute to ozone layer depletion and air pollution. Additionally, transporting ceramic tiles from the manufacturer to the construction site presents an additional environmental concern. Depending on the distance to be traveled, the transport of ceramic tiles may emit nitride and oxide hazardous gases as well as other pollutants. These toxic gases are a key contributor to environmental degradation.
Ceramic tiles can also take thousands of years to degrade in a landfill, leading to environmental pollution. A preferable way is to recycle ceramic tiles instead of dumping them. Recycling ceramic tiles reduce the need for fresh raw materials, lowering their environmental impact.
Lifecycle Analysis and the Ceramic Tiles Industry
The latest research published in the Journal of Materials Research and Technology has presented a thorough lifecycle analysis of the ceramic tile industry. The researchers have proposed that determining the functional units, system boundaries, and climate impact allocations are essential steps. A functional unit identifies the amount of a product or product system based on the performance it provides in its final application. The researchers have found that in life cycle assessments (LCA), system boundaries must be described in several dimensions, including those between the technical system and environment, the geographical region and timeframe, etc.
Concentrating on ceramic tiles, life cycle assessment breaks down the whole transportation, production, and disposal system into unit operations and evaluates all of its elements, subsystems, and materials. Inventory analysis, which records the inputs and outputs of ceramic tiles, is the most essential evaluation in this phase of the ceramic tile lifecycle.
The most popular software applications utilized for life cycle analysis include Open LCA, SimaPro, Umberto NxT, GaBi, QuantisSuite, and Model Bousted.
As per the researchers, the LCA of ceramic tiles has indicated that excessive power consumption, industry emissions (particulate matter, gases, and toxic liquids), and waste generation are the most significant hazards. The determination of the impacts of ceramic tile products throughout their life cycle is done by utilizing a systematic approach with environmental product declarations (EPDs). These statements improve environmental performance and aid in evaluating the life cycles of products. With EPDs, businesses compete to create more sustainable products.
To summarize, the researchers have stressed the need for more research and data which would boost the sustainable production of ceramic tiles, leading to a reduction in hazardous emissions.
Case Study: Life Cycle Analysis of Glazed Ceramic Tile
A study published in Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy focuses on the lifecycle analysis of glazed ceramic tiles to measure the environmental impacts. Total Abiotic depletion potential (ADP) components in the manufacturing of glazed ceramic tiles were about 55 mg Sb/m2. The estimated global warming potential (GWP) for ceramic tile was 14.4 kg CO2 equivalent per square meter. CO2 emissions account for approximately 92.1% of the overall effect. The manufacturing of ceramic tiles had an ozone layer depletion potential of 1.3 mg CFC-11 equivalents per square meter, which was mostly driven by the production phase (52.9%). The primary contributions to this impact are emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) to the atmosphere, such as halon 1301 (55.6 %) and halon 1201 (24.3 %), caused by the use of natural gas for heat generation. The plant consumed 1,130 TJ of energy annually to create 106,195 tons of glazed ceramic tile.
As environmental awareness increases, there is a greater demand for eco-friendly building materials. The ceramic tile industry is exploring ways to reduce its environmental impact. Biogas or renewable energy might lessen the environmental impact of producing fossil fuels. Installing a combined cycle system or utilizing waste heat in the manufacturing process is also a good step. Alternative materials or waste from other industries may be substituted for standard raw materials in formulations to lessen the environmental impacts of the raw materials supply.
In conclusion, a thorough lifecycle analysis of ceramic tiles reveals that their production and use have significant environmental impacts, and steps must be taken for sustainable ceramic tile production.
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References and Further Reading
Ceramic World Web, 2022. World ceramic tile industry and market: forecasts to 2025. [Online]
Available at: https://ceramicworldweb.com/en/economics-and-markets/world-ceramic-tile-industry-and-market-forecasts-2025
Vieira AW. et. al. Life cycle assessment in the ceramic tile industry: a review. (2023) Journal of Materials Research and Technology. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmrt.2023.02.023.
Atılgan Türkmen, B., Budak Duhbacı, T. & Karahan Özbilen, Ş. (2021). Environmental impact assessment of ceramic tile manufacturing: a case study in Turkey. Clean Techn Environ Policy, 23. 1295–1310. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10098-021-02035-w
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