The award-winning York Handmade Brick Company, one of the leading independent brickmakers in the country, has signed up to the Ceramics UK Net Zero initiative.

This is another major commitment towards sustainability and Net Zero by York Handmade, who are based at Alne, near Easingwold.

Managing director Guy Armitage explained: “Here at York Handmade Brick, we are very proud of our sustainability record as we strive to do our best to hit the Government’s target to reach net zero by 2050. This will require a concerted effort and I am tempted to quote John F Kennedy’s famous and apposite comment: We are doing this not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

“That is why we have just signed up to the Ceramics UK Towards Net Zero initiative. The UK manufacturing industry is making a really big effort to achieve net zero by 2050 and I believe us smaller members have a big part to play, as we have advantages over our larger peers.

“Our work into effectively recovering heat from intermittent kilns for intermittent dryers will be shared across the industry, with other research being shared via Ceramics UK.

“All of this is yet another reason for our customers to buy UK manufactured brick, leaving aside for now the appalling conditions in which brick is manufactured in South-East Asia. I really believe that we are ahead of the curve on this with our ambition in comparison to the rest of the world.”

This Ceramics UK campaign is a key support programme to help its members to work together in delivering further ceramic sector decarbonisation action in a progressive but realistic manner. In the first few months since launching the initiative, an ever-growing number of members, including many SMEs, have signed up and are willing to work together, share ideas and approaches, and show the sector’s collective commitment to the decarbonisation challenge.

The scheme is free for members, voluntary, and has a simple sign-up process where participants self-declare against a set of light-touch principles. The initial tools and activities being provided include a Business-to-Business Sector Partnering and Mentorship scheme, which involves sharing ideas and approaches in a non-competitive and collaborative manner, and an Employee Engagement and Awareness training material, which aims to raise employee awareness and engagement in energy reduction and decarbonisation.

Guy Armitage continued: “There is no doubt that the energy and emissions policy landscape, and how this is implemented, is critical to the UK ceramic sector and all member companies. This new campaign by Ceramics UK will help members understand complex issues and upcoming changes, supporting the industry’s continued collaboration and response to growing challenges driven through the UK’s net zero.

“Here at York Handmade, we are very proud to be putting these objectives into practice, having recently been awarded a grant to improve our energy efficiency and to reduce our carbon emissions.

“We successfully applied to the “game-changing” Industrial Energy Transformation Fund (IETF) for £38,800 to pursue our sustainability agenda. We are completely committed to improving the energy efficiency of our factory site at Alne and are currently undertaking a detailed techno-economic feasibility study. This extremely welcome grant minimises the cost and risks of the study and of any subsequent capital investment.”

The special project aims to improve the energy efficiency of the site by capturing the high-grade (high temperature) waste heat from the kilns and utilising it in the dryers. This will offset/replace the need for gas-firing in the dryers and lead to significant energy, carbon and cost reductions. The kilns operate at high temperatures (up to about 1100 degrees C) and the exhaust gases from the kilns carry substantial amounts of heat which is currently being wasted. The solution involves installing a heat exchanger in the exhaust stack of each kiln to capture this heat into high pressure hot water or thermal oil.

This hot water/oil will then be stored in a thermal battery. The thermal battery can then provide heat to the brick dryers using a radiator system on demand and allow the operations of the kilns and dryers independent of each other.

Guy added: “Sustainability is extremely important for energy intensive businesses like York Handmade as we are seeing an eight-fold increase in our energy costs. The government has already announced withdrawing financial support for industry with energy bills and many similar businesses are facing existential threats due to high energy costs, inflation and reduced spending power of their customers.

The government’s commitment to net zero by 2050 will require industry emissions to reduce by nearly 90 per cent from the present value. We are both happy and proud to play our part.”