Biomass Energy - Prospects of effective implementation as part of “Make in India”

Time immemorial the World and India relying on biomass energy was happy. In modern terms, when we talk about energy it implies both cooking and power and the Governments are expected to provide energy for both. While a number of energy solutions are worked out by researchers, planners and Governments the participation of biomass can never be ruled out. Gasifier based power plants provide solutions for off-grid decentralized power and are lighting homes in some parts of India. India being deficient in (renewable) forests is deficient biomass to set up as many big power plants like Europe which runs monstrous power plants.

Problem with the biomass energy is always linked to the availability of biomass in India. There were and are numbers of examples where most of the industries set up to produce power from dedicated biomass sources suffer from lack enough stocks or poor supply chain along with logistics. Still there is a possibility India can work on decentralized, localized power plants to meet the energy demands.

India as a highly populated country has to satisfy the growing demands of population. If India has to adjust itself to the climate change an comply with the COP21, it has to look for answers within. India with the growing population still has to answer the food vs fuel conundrum. The success India has to in producing Sugarcane and energy from cogeneration plants could be replicated in most of the areas where water is available. At one point India will have to convert all the sugarcane producing industries to produce only grid power and extra neutral alcohol for mixing in transportation fuel if it has to cut the foreign exchequer and provide more jobs for the growing population. The sugar requirement could well be maintained by imports from various Sugar producing countries like Brazil, Australia etc even at cheaper cost than our production cost.

According to recent International Energy Agency India’s reliance on foreign oil is tipped to jump from 80 per cent to 90 per cent by 2040 and it is also predicted that India will lead global energy demand growth. In spite of huge drop in the crude oil prices, India could not reduce the fuel prizes at the distribution points. Declaring sugarcane as an energy crop and not as a sugar crop along with other biomass will sure cut our imports to certain extent. My argument here is not the cut in import bills, but increasing the internal economy by promoting jobs.

Simultaneously the cogeneration plants also can be encouraged to grow short to long term biomass plants to feed the Co-generation plants which will not only become an income generation activity to the farmer but will also help the villages to get power from the cogeneration plants. With this most of the dry tracts also could be brought to efficient use.

The major impediment for the biomass based power plants are the distance the biomass travels. Transportation for more than 50 km is seen unviable for a power plant of size 10-15MW. In these cases, available technologies allow production of biomass pellets in large scale and transporting them to more distance. This is another village based economy that is coming up and India should harness this efficiently.

While it is too early to discuss the power costs, the green economy costs will be very much higher than the coal based power plants or other sources which will have their own repercussions on the global climate change. In few areas, biomass could be a supplement to coal based power (10-15%) or other modes of power generation.

This will enormously increase the village economy, increase purchasing power, reverse migration of labourers to villages for better jobs and earnings, collective bargaining of small and marginal farmers, localized economy systems, reduction in grid losses, increased mechanization, increase in ancillary jobs, transportation and other associated benefits through creation of jobs through other lifestyle related markets. This could well be linked to Mahatma Gandhi Rural Development Programme where this will feed a number of families and result in circular economy.

When we discuss the nutrient transformation in agricultural soils, the Government / companies should work out a mechanism to plough back the ash coming out of the companies to be distributed to farmers. While at collection level, only one fourth of biomass could be procured, the possibility of spreading ash in the fields could neutralize the nutrient demands of the farms. While the judicious collection will ensure certain % of Organic matter, the arboriculture also has its advantage of allow the farmers to rear cattle in the farms to produce allied products to feed markets including cow dung that will serve their fields. The best silvi-pastoral example is the cultivation of Prosopis cineraria in between the biomass energy crops that will feed the cattle at large.

The Make In India concept should start here where this will not only uphold the status of the farmers but also will promote as many proud entrepreneurs as possible. Rural Entrepreneurship is the need of the hour that give the Government a great deal of satisfaction in retaining the population in the villages itself.

I would go one step further stating that mere implementation of PURA (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas), a wonderful and noble concept of former President of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam will have a significant impact in this process. Knowledge, infrastructure, information connectivity in rural areas, will lead to financial security of villages.

The Government should give a big push to the Biomass economy parallel to Oil pipeline projects discussing with middle east and other countries in between. Our goals and policies should be oriented towards, the following

  • Identification of suitable modern biomass power technologies that suits to different agro climatic regions of India
  • Identification of agricultural / tree crops , cropping systems, and patters suiting to different agro climatic regions and technologies proposed / promoted
  • Working out the cost of biomass power for different regions
  • Promotion of mechanization of biomass power systems
  • Creating jobs through biomass power generation and village based biomass power economy
  • Divert the tariff related support to modern biomass technologies for producing power at competitive cost
  • Promote / adopt / support development of flue gas mitigation technologies that will reduce the flue gas impact into the atmosphere and promote green economy.