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An Interview With The Creator of Carbon Tile, World's First Tile Made with Air Pollution

TDC Interviews: Tejas Sidnal, Founder, Carbon Craft Design

A breakthrough in sustainability for the environment, Tejas’s team has dealt with plenty of challenges throughout their journey. In an exclusive interview, Tejas tells us how Carbon Tile happened, the challenges it currently faces and how he plans to take the product to the masses.

Tejas Sidnal

1) Tell us a little about your initial days, your experiences as an architect and your specialization as a Biomimetic Designer?

I stumbled upon Biomimicry when I was working for a competition during my 2nd year of Architecture course. I was super excited and wanted to learn more about it. I knew I wanted to use this strategy in some project and I got that full freedom for my thesis. I also grew plants, creepers, and runners in a controlled environment as an experiment to understand its growth patterns. After I successfully completed my thesis – Biomimicry Institute in Mumbai, I was looking forward for an opportunity to build something around it.

When I started my job is when I realized how difficult the journey is from Academia to Industry. It felt a totally different world. I realized I might have to specialize in this if I want to take this ahead. I soon realized that there were no courses around Biomimicry + Architecture anywhere in this world about a decade ago. The closest I could get was Emergent Technologies and Design Course at Architectural Association, School of Architecture in London.

This is the place I learnt to think and question – WHY is it like this?

Would like to share a favorite quote of mine on why this was really important. Quote from Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

At AA I learnt the basics of Material Science – Technology – Design. It only taught me how to approach a problem and arrive at a logical + technical solution.

I don’t feel I am a Biomimetic Designer yet. It takes years of experience, knowledge base and a very strong team of diverse people from Biology, Material Science, Chemical Engineers, Scientists and various other experts to develop something like a Biomimetic Design. It would be safe to say I am an enthusiast learning about Biomimicry every day.

2) How has the response to the product been? Are there any limitations when it comes to the Carbon Tile as compared to the conventional tiles?

We launched Carbon Tile in January 2020 and Covid-19 penetrated India early March 2020. I personally feel Covid-19 has helped and done some damage as well purely from the business point of view. It has helped accelerate the discussions with clients. Every common person is talking about climate change and moreover we could see the clean cities around the world. Damage in a way where it has shrunk our cashflow completely as we had just launched. It is yet very difficult for us to understand if the market will accept our product at scale with this external force of covid-19 around.

At the moment Carbon tiles are only available in shades of Black and Grey. It is yet very difficult to commercialize a single colour tone when the raw material is yet not stabilized. A lot depends on the type of raw material we get – How it is burnt, When it is burnt, Which fuel is used to burn it, Moisture content and various other complications around the raw material. But we feel we will be able to overcome this in time and regularize our processes.

3) The tiles industry is blessed with numerous categories, styles and finishes. How is Carbon Tile able to compete with the same?

Yes, we have a couple surface finishes without Carbon Tile and with respect to design one can customize it to their needs. It is very difficult to compete within any market where one has to work within the restrictions of working with the environment as its priority. This is also because our Indian markets are not built for this. There is more awareness about this in other countries like the US and Europe and people are more sensitive about it.

4) Starting a new company in an already saturated sector can be tough, what are the struggles that you are currently facing as a company and how do you aim to tackle them?

I think bringing in a sustainable solution in any sector is difficult unless it is price competitive for the larger masses. Or it needs to be positioned in such a way where the product becomes niche.

As a company we need to be able to set processes and systems in place from raw material to final product shipping. To be able to scale and cater to the demands of the customers.

First is identifying the right customers / Market and second is a strong distribution model. These are a couple things we have been trying to resolve on a larger scale.

5) How did your partnership with AIR-INK happen?

I was working on AA Visiting School Workshop during 2016 and I had approached Anirudh who is the Co-Founder of AIR INK. I was then wondering if we could make bricks out of carbon emissions. That is how we started our journey of experimenting and developing a product around this.

I think Anirudh and Nikhil are very strong collaborators. They gave us the chance to experiment at a very early stage. We are grateful for the collaboration we have with them. I believe if we want to solve larger problems, we will all have to come together with our skillsets.

6) How can Carbon Tile be made easily accessible to the masses? What are your future plans with the product? What more can we expect from Carbon Craft Design?

Access within the Indian market has two areas – Access to view the product and access from the price point perspective. We are looking to develop a virtual store to allow everyone to be able to see the carbon tiles and its patterns in the digital world. Indian market though is yet not mature for an online buying of tiles online. Although with the shift in digital practices with Covid-19 we might start with a digital store which will allow people to view and play around with the patterns in their space. With respect to pricing we might have an affordable segment and customizable patterns with some limited editions.

We have developed an IP around Carbon Tile; we think this could be used to develop a lot of other building materials and other lifestyle / interior décor products as well.

Carbon Craft Design’s vision is to upcycle as much carbon emissions as possible and eventually build an entire building made out of carbon emissions using various technologies.

7) A part of Carbon Craft Design deals with extensive research. Tell us more about it and the team behind Carbon Craft.

Applied research is a part of our overall process of working and evolving. We are constantly trying to adapt to newer systems, application, materials etc. I would like to say that the entire company thrives on applied research.

I am extremely grateful to the most important part of carbon craft design i.e. its people. We wouldn’t have been able to achieve all that we have without the people I’ve had the opportunity to work with. Giriprashad K – Our Project head is a mechanical engineer and loves making the invisible visible. Kishor Avhad – Our Lead Designer, he has been able to create the magic with the patterns and our design language. Vedant – Our Visualization expert, he has helped us communicate our thoughts and processes in the most simple and clear way possible. I strongly believe if you love what you are doing you will enjoy every moment of it. Team building is a very difficult part especially when people come together from different backgrounds and skillsets but its also the most exciting part.

Q: The Design Collective

A: Tejas Sidnal

About Tejas Sidnal:

Tejas is an Architect, Biomimetic Designer and Researcher from Mumbai. Having a strong inclination towards Biomimicry he has been researching over this field from the past 9 years. His passion lies in exploring sustainable innovative strategies for designing. Breathe is an international visiting school which he directs and runs at the intersection of Biomimicry - Material Science - Design. He has completed his masters from AA School of Architecture, London as a Tata Scholar and has now set up a platform for research - Carbon Craft Design, in Mumbai to experiment challenging work at the intersection of Tech - Craft - Design.


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