Producing affordable tiles from beverage waste in Ethiopia

When Dargie Haile Molla was in the final year of his chemical engineering studies at Bahir Dar University of Technology, his teacher set a challenge for him and his classmates: create a business project that could be easily implemented, and the teacher would cover the costs of a new graduation outfit.

This contest was on Dargie’s mind as the young Ethiopian apprenticed at the local factories of some of the country’s largest breweries. In one factory he had the chance to watch the steps taken to filter yeast and other impurities after a beer has matured. The yeast was collected into a porous filter and then dumped into a local landfill where it would dry to a powder and pollute the river. Large breweries can produce up to 2,000 kilograms of this waste each day.

That is not appealing for any community, but especially not Bahir Dar, a green city known for its pleasant location along the shores of Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest body of water. Dargie immediately identified that this could be a problem for the environment and his city. With more than 20 breweries across Ethiopia producing the same amount of waste, he realized something had to be done.

His idea: create green flooring tiles. “I realized the waste had almost the same composition as cement,” Dargie says. “It had a similar content of silicon dioxide, with iron, magnesium, and calcium. I just needed to find a binding agent.”

Finding the perfect tile recipe

It was not easy for Dargie to make his green tiles. He did not create the perfect tile after the first try, or the second, or the third. Instead, it took 64 attempts, and Dargie carefully experimenting with different chemicals until he found a binding agent.

“When I arrived at 60 I started to get it, and by 62 the teacher realized I was onto something,” Dargie laughs.

After attempt 64, Dargie’s tiles finally shared the same key characteristics of conventional cement: they were porous and lightweight, and had an appropriate density and level of water absorption. He named his project Green Vision Tile Manufacturer.

Green Vision’s tiles are very cheap to produce. Local breweries bring their waste directly to Dargie’s home, saving him the time and effort of transporting his raw material. Once the waste is transformed into tiles, he can sell them for more than half the price of conventional cement tiles, saving 30 to 40 birr for each 25 purchased (between $1.30 – $1.70 USD).

While Dargie’s tiles are competitively priced, he is not all about profit. “At the moment, the environmental safety is more important to me than the money,” Dargie says. “A feasible business should think about today and continue implementing a solution that will be sustainable until tomorrow.”

Next steps for Green Vision Tile Manufacturer

Green Vision’s operations are still small, with Dargie producing 500 to 800 tiles each day using his single mixing machine. The municipality of Bahir Dar is one of his customers, and his tiles are also used on the walls of homes.

His brothers and sisters are helping with his operation, and the next step is to buy more mixing machines so he can produce a large quantity of tiles for customers in other parts of Ethiopia.

Back at his university, Dargie’s tiles are used in one of the school’s compounds, and he aspires to cover the entire campus with his tiles in the future. His name hangs in the engineering department, a reminder of his successful innovation — and the free graduation outfit he got for its creation.

“Now everyone from this year wants to start a business,” Dargie says. “It is important for me to be an example to these other students. I want to show them that they can be self reliant after they graduate. I also want them to see that if we create businesses that manage the waste from the bottom or the source that we can keep Bahir Dar and our country green.”

Dargie with a tile

Dargie’s tile looks and feels like concrete, but is made of beverage waste

Quick Facts:

Name: Dargie Haile Molla
Social project: Green Vision Tile Manufacturer
Location: Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

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Producing affordable tiles from beverage waste in Ethiopia