At a time when textile mills around the country are struggling to keep their production going due to the ongoing gas crisis, Mithela Textile Mills Limited of Narayanganj has somehow found a way around it thanks to a stroke of foresight of its owner. In 2018, the mill installed a boiler that runs on paddy husk, a byproduct of rice mills. Now that boiler has saved the day for the mill.
Aside from churning out 45 lakh yards of fabric per month, the factory is also able to help two of the country's leading textile mills whose production has also been hit by the gas shortage. Mithela Textile Mills Ltd also produces and dyes about 15 lakh yards of fabric per month for those two mills.
The mill became the first in the world to receive the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) Platinum certification or top compliance in environmental protection in 2018.
Factory owners say they started the first textile boiler operation in Bangladesh with discarded rice husks in the factory in Duptara of Araihazar, Narayanganj.
In the group owned Khan Food and Auto Rice Mills Limited, the rice husk was carried to the boiler unit of the dyeing section using a separate pipe. The husk is fed into a burner to make steam that is used to dye the fabrics.
The husk comes from the Khan Rice brand which is sold in different districts of the country, including Narayanganj.
Md Azahar Khan, chairman of Mithela Group, told The Business Standard that its own auto rice mill produces 10 tonnes of rice per hour, which produces three to three-and-a-half tonnes of rice husk.
At present, the husk is available every hour, except when there is load shedding. "With it, I can keep 70% of the total capacity running. As a result, we save around Tk1 crore in gas bills every month," Azahar said.
An expensive saving grace
The mill has been using the husk fired boiler after its green certification in 2018. But over time, while there have been savings, there has also been an increase in cost.
Asked why they turned to such a boiler in 2018 when there was no gas crisis, Azahar said the decision was taken with the future in mind.
"I thought that if there is ever a gas crisis in the future, then the mill made at a huge investment will come to a stop. But at that time, the cost of running the boiler with husk was almost the same as using gas," he said.
According to the Mithela authorities, running a boiler with husks now costs three times more than using gas.
At present, it costs Tk714 to produce a tonne of steam by gas in a boiler. But the cost using the rice husk is Tk2,192 as the byproduct now costs Tk12 per kilogramme.
Azahar explained that running boilers and production with husk was more beneficial because they can deliver products on time despite the added cost.
"We work with reputed foreign buyers. Currently due to this, overhead cost has increased and instead of profit we have slipped to the breakeven point. But we have been able to supply quality fabric, retaining our buyer's trust, which is most important in the current crisis," he said.
"At the same time, many factories are not able to take orders simply because of lack of gas or even if they have orders, they are not able to deliver on time," he added.
In addition, if the gas pressure suddenly decreases during dyeing, i.e., if there is a power cut, the quality of all the fabrics falls, causing huge financial losses.
"But since this process is managed by us, there is very little chance of fabric damage."
Textile mills mainly require gas to run spinning, dyeing units.
Electricity generated with gas, known as captive power, drives the spinning mills. Gas is also used to produce steam in the boiler which is used for fabric dyeing. Large-scale textile mills require huge amounts of electricity, which is in short supply from power distributors. That is why the government encourages textile mill owners to generate captive power on their own. The country's spinning and dyeing mills have been operating in this process.
A greener alternative
High cost aside, the husk is much more green and efficient and offers several benefits to the factory.
Furthermore, the foresight has helped tackle a crisis. Dependence on the boiler has only increased in the past six months.
To receive green certification, a factory has to post energy savings of at least 15%. But through the use of husk, Mithela Chairman Azahar said the factory was saving 68% in energy costs. Besides, 50% of water is being reused through the Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP).
Azahar did not disclose the investment amount in the husk based boiler system.
Gas crisis persists
When the gas crisis turned severe, the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA) said production had fallen by 40%.
At the Mithela Textile Mills factory, there was no gas pressure on a weekday. The factory authorities said that their authorised gas pressure is 15 psi (pounds per square inch). While no gas is available between 6am-10pm, only 1-3 psi gas pressure is given between 10pm-6am.
Talking to entrepreneurs of the textile sector, it was learned that aside from husk, there were other ways to run boilers.
Md Khorshed Alam, chairman Little Star Spinning Mills Limited, told TBS that coconut husk, corn husk, leaves and twigs can also be used to generate steam for boilers. China has this technology, but it is still not used in Bangladesh.
There is also the scope to use charcoal, but that wasn't environmentally-friendly.
According to Mithela Group website, this group has one weaving mill, two dyeing mills, and printing units.
Besides, there are auto rice mills that produce the husk for the boilers.
Bangladesh is currently the second top garment exporter. In the last fiscal year 2021-22, Bangladesh exported more than $42 billion worth of garments. About 80% of knitwear and about 40% of woven garments are supplied by local textile mills.
The BTMA has around 1,728 textile mills as members. Of these, 500 are yarn manufacturing mills, 900 fabric mills, 317 dyeing, printing and finishing mills.
The amount of investment in this sector is $15 billion.
More than eight hundred spinning and dyeing-printing and finishing mills are gas dependent.
Among the four establishments of the Mithela group, two dyeing units are mainly green certified, spread over 37 bighas of land and employing around 1,500 workers.