Its high-density panels made from agri residue are ideal for building dry walls, ceilings, doors and furniture
When Shriti Pandey founded Strawcture Eco Private Limited, a green building material company, in 2018, eco-friendly housing was an obscure concept for many builders and architects. Two years later Covid struck and suddenly discussions about climate change and indoor air pollution acquired a sense of urgency. For Shriti, however, the idea of Strawcture grew out of the environmental concern for stubble burning during a rural fellowship programme. Her company adds value to waste by converting agri residue of sugarcane, paddy, wheat and coconut into high density building panels. These products can be used for creating dry walls and ceilings, doors and furniture.
“We offer healthy, sustainable alternatives to traditional medium-density fibreboard, plywood and gypsum products. Our panels are made of 90% organic residue, 5% moisture and 5% organic resin. The biomass is compressed under tremendous heat and pressure and glued together with resin, which contains minimal amount of formaldehyde — a colourless, flammable, strong-smelling cancer-causing chemical used in building materials and household products,” says Shriti, adding that the biopanels are comparable to plywood in density and strength and come in a similar price range.
“Four years ago, even the informed ones in the construction sector considered rainwater harvesting and solar energy system – the operational carbon reduction measures — as the defining criteria for green buildings. The equally important aspect of embodied carbon – the carbon dioxide emissions associated with materials and construction processes throughout the lifecycle of a building or infrastructure – had been overlooked,” says the 30-year-old civil engineer who had done her Master’s in construction management from New York University.
In the initial days of the company, Shriti mostly encountered wariness from builders too set in their ways to try out a new material. She got her breakthrough in a Selco Foundation CSR initiative doing turnkey projects in remote parts of Odisha, Bihar, Gujarat, UP, and Karnataka.
The quality of these low-cost structures helped her secure commercial deals. “From 2020, we had builders and architects using our panels. With every new project, the quality of the products and our understanding of their usage improved,” she says.
The startup’s notable commercial projects include the interiors of an international school in Gurgaon, two hospitals in Bengaluru and Jalandhar, and a bank in Mumbai.
Strawcture has been in the news for building COVID-19 facilities in Bihar, Punjab, and Nagaland, and a childcare centre in Bihar. This year, the company wants to make its products available in 18 cities through a dealer network. “The objective is to establish a decentralised production and distribution model that will source raw materials from local geographies. Building on the same principle, we will expand to 100 towns and cities in the next 5 years,” she says.
Alongside, Strawcture will join hands with CSR foundations and NGOs to develop an offsite modular construction strategy for turnkey projects in challenging terrains. “Green materials, coupled with speed of construction, hold the key to largescale social, economic and environmental impact. Only then state governments will be eager to take up low-cost housing, schools, childcare and healthcare centres,” she says.
The need for sustainable construction and the relevance of Strawcture cannot be overstated. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, building operations accounted for 28% of global emissions while construction-related materials (brick, clay, aluminium, glass, etc) added another 10%. Bouncing back from Covid-related slowdown, the building materials industry in India, currently valued at $225 Billion, is expected to grow by 8-10%, according to experts. There is an urgent need for greener, resource-efficient, and carbon-neutral substitutes to meet the monstrous hunger for real estate. Simultaneously, the environmental and health hazards arising from stubble burning in North India deserve to be treated with utmost seriousness. Strawcture is addressing both these problems through its product – each sqft of the panel stores nearly 3 kg of carbon – while preventing depletion of natural resources.
“The time has come for state and central governments to implement measures that incentivises builders and architects to use green products, much the way solar energy and electric vehicles are being promoted,” she says. As a confidence-building measure, the Central Public Works Department and the National Project Construction Corporation Ltd must give preference to green materials, she says.
Role of Social Alpha
Strawcture Eco would like to be part of the Social Alpha ecosystem that nurtures several Cleantech startups. “Besides funding, we are looking to utilise Social Alpha’s in-depth understanding and contacts in the agri-supply chain that will help us set up decentralised factories and build the right model to source crop residue from farmers. We are confident that this partnership will enable us to make green building materials a mainstream product in commercial buildings by 2030,” says Shriti.
Strawcture fits Social Alpha’s thesis on ‘sustainable construction materials’, ‘waste to value’ and ‘resource efficiency’ as part of the Sustainable Consumption theory within the overall Climate Action framework. “The product has multifold impact across climate (alternative to existing carbon-intensive building construction materials and processes), health (discouraging stubble burning by providing an alternative market for agri waste) and livelihoods,” says Nikhita Nadkarni, Director, Livelihoods and Prosperity, at Social Alpha.
Social Alpha is excited to partner with Villgro and Brigade in order to back Strawcture. Brigade is an industry leader and has managed to bring together several illustrious names from the industry which will help provide the right market connects.
Apart from funding, Social Alpha will support Strawcture in the overall scale up journey by connecting the startup with labs & other industry players for product research; and with farmers and FPOs for backward integration of the raw material while also helping them in subsequent fundraise.