Chennai-based venture Indowud NFC uses agricultural husk to create an eco-friendly form of wood that not only deals with the problem of stubble burning, but also reduces the number of trees being cut to make furniture.
Entrepreneur B L Bengani, a resident of Chennai, was so concerned about climate change that he decided to manufacture a new product to combat the problem of tree cutting.
He spent two years and several lakhs developing a zero-wood board made with agricultural husk to replace plywood.
In 2019, he launched Indowud NFC (Natural Fibre Composite Board). He says this product is termite-proof, waterproof, flame retardant, 100% recyclable and can be moulded and shaped in any manner. It replaces wood with agricultural husk, along with minerals, PVC resin, and other components. The PVC resin is imported from Japan and South Korea.
Having worked in the plywood industry for more than four decades, Bengani knew that there was a need for an alternative that wouldn’t involve cutting trees.
How the idea of ‘Zero wood’ product was born
Bengani’s career in the industry started in the 80s in a plywood shop. He went on to launch his own company, Uniply Industries, in 1996, which was listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange.
“We would import round timber logs from Myanmar. In 2014-15, the Myanmar government banned the export of these logs, and we faced a problem with raw materials. That’s when I started thinking of a sustainable, eco-friendly alternative,” he tells The Better India.
Moreover, Bengani was also aware of the harm caused by felling trees. A report by Business Standard stated that India lost 14 per cent of its tree cover amid the pandemic, which made carbon emissions equivalent to those given out by 570 million cars.
Soon enough, he realised that the solution to this problem was right next to him the entire time — in the fields right beside his factory.
He says that the burning of agricultural waste is a major problem in North India. According to a report published in Krishi Jagran, stubble burning being practised in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab contribute majorly to the life-threatening high AQI of New Delhi. “We are seeing the effects of global warming and deforestation. The entire ecosystem is being harmed. We thought of taking the first step to protect mother nature and doing something. The idea was to develop an alternative to wood, without compromising on quality,” adds Bengani.
So the company started work on the product in 2017, and it took almost two years to find the perfect combination of raw materials. They spent more than Rs 20 lakh and spoiled several machines in the process.
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Even after starting production in 2019, it took almost eight months to perfect the product. Bengani says they procure husk from farmers and rice mills. The factory is situated in Gummidipoondi, on the outskirts of Chennai. There are many rice mills and fields in a 10 km radius around the factory.
As paddy is cultivated across four seasons in Tamil Nadu, there is never a shortage of husk, he explains. This also provides some extra revenue for farmers.
‘This wood can be moulded and shaped, can be used for exteriors’
Unlike plywood, this NFC can be moulded and shaped into any form. It is also suitable for exterior applications, says Bengani.
“Our product has multiple uses. It can be used for furniture, as well as exterior applications. It can withstand any climatic condition; be it winter or summer. This can be used in place of GFRC (Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete) for exteriors,” says Bengani.
The factory’s capacity is 5,000 tonnes.
By using agricultural husk, they are saving 20,000 trees from being cut, says Bengani.
While the product was ready in 2019, the pandemic caused a major problem for the company, as production had to be halted in 2020 and 2021.
The product, which was finally launched at the end of 2021, is doing well, says Bengani. “We have supplied to Australia and New Zealand, which are using a lot of sustainable products. We have also supplied to Oman, and are now working on exporting to the US,” he notes.
Kishore Pannikar, partner at architectureRed, a customer of Indowud, says, “There are multiple advantages of Indowud NFC. It can be moulded into different shapes using heat, and it retains the shape. It allows us to experiment with different forms. It is water and termite-proof, so it will last long. Sustainability is an important factor for us too. It is also very conducive to finish in different surfaces — it is versatile.”
The company has not patented their product as they want more people to get involved in building a sustainable future. Bengani says that if anyone is interested in making such a product, they can contact them and he would be willing to collaborate.
“Ours is a unique product, which we spent years developing. We are willing to give an opportunity for others to develop. We want others to also contribute to the nation, environment and society,” he says.
Bengani says that they have taken the first step towards helping the environment, and hopes that more people will join him.
You can find more information at https://www.indowud.com/
‘India lost 14% tree cover amid Covid, rainforest destruction up 12% in 2020’ by Shibu Tripathi for Business Standard, Published on 2 April, 2021
‘Stubble Burning in India: Causes, Effects & Measures’ by Kritika Madhukar for Krishi Jagran, Published on 17 February 2022
Edited by Divya Sethu; Feature image credit: architectureRed