New brick plant could stack up well

March 10, 2008
Imagine what Babylonia and other ancient cultures could have accomplished with a brick-making plant like the one scheduled to open Thursday in Terre Haute.

Atlanta-based Boral Bricks Inc. is touting the $58 million facility as the most efficient in the United States, partly because the bricks will be fired by methane gas taken from a landfill.

"This is a big deal," said Senior Project Manager Wayne Green, who supervised the project. "It will make front page news in all the publications we subscribe to."

At 295,000 square feet, the plant also will be one of the nation's largest. About 50 workers will ship 120 million bricks a year in four sizes and at least a dozen colors throughout much of the Midwest.

Thousands of brick manufacturers were in business as recently as World War II, but only 83 remain, according to the Brick Industry Association, in Reston, Va.

Still, it remains a folksy, mom-and-pop industry that throws doors open for plant tours and openly shares ideas. Trade shows can be as much homecomings as places to hear speakers and inspect the latest equipment.

The close-knit atmosphere in the industry has been compelled by the rise of competition from aluminum and vinyl siding. More recently, the industry has been assaulted by fake bricks molded from colored concrete.

Boral, the nation's largest brickmaker, built the Terre Haute plant because too few bricks are manufactured in the Midwest to satisfy demand, Green said. Many of the bricks used in the region are made in Alabama or the Carolinas.

The Terre Haute area was chosen for its proximity to a Republic Services Inc. landfill that is expected to generate methane for at least 40 years.

The site also is on a shale deposit. Shale will be pulverized, then mixed with water and squeezed into bricks around the clock. The bricks then will be fired at 2,000 degrees.

Natural gas burned at many brick plants amounts to nearly one-third of the cost of finished bricks. Availability of methane will cut some of that cost.

Overall, the new plant will cost about 25 percent less to operate than a traditional plant.

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