Interview: Dr. AR Shukla

President at Indian Biogas Association (IBA)

Biogas Production Holds Great Promise for Environmental Sustainability

December 05, 2023. By News Bureau

In both rural and urban contexts, the scalability of biogas projects is closely linked to community involvement, government support, technological advancements, and the availability of organic waste as a feedstock. A holistic and integrated approach, taking into account local conditions and needs, is crucial for successful scalability, says Dr. AR Shukla, President, Indian Biogas Association (IBA) in an interaction with Energetica India.

Que: Can you tell some of the potential environmental benefits and challenges of biogas adoption in Indian metropolises?

Ans: Biogas adoption in Indian metropolises can offer several environmental and social benefits, but it also comes with certain challenges. In principle, biogas production and utilisation in Indian metropolises holds great promise for environmental sustainability and we can reap the benefits once the challenges related to feedstock, infrastructure, and public awareness are addressed.

There are several environmental benefits of adopting biogas in the Indian metropolises, including significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions, scientific waste management of municipal solid waste, availability of renewable energy source, energy security and self-reliance.

As per CPCB annual report on Implementation of Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, published in 2020-21, the MSW generated in India amounts to 160038.9 TPD. Out of this 95.4 percent waste (152749.5 TPD) is collected. Of the collected waste, around 50 percent (79956.3 TPD) is treated while 18.4 percent (29427.2 TPD) is landfilled. It is not reported what happens of the remaining 31.7 percent (50655.4 TPD) of total waste generated. Around 50 percent of MSW is organic fraction and this waste generates methane gas when landfilled. Methane emission from landfills is a serious issue as methane is 25 times more powerful green house gas than carbon dioxide.

In addition, the use of biogas/CBG can significantly lead to improvement in air quality as biogas is carbon neutral and combustion of biogas will not lead to addition in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere as opposed to burning of fossil fuels. Further, the by-product of biogas generation is an excellent organic fertilizer which helps improve the soil quality that deteriorates through use of chemical fertilizers.

The major challenges to widespread adoption of the biogas ecosystem are raw material, i.e., feedstock supply chain, land availability, huge investments required for setting up a plant, availability of skilled personnel and proper enforcement of government policies.

First and foremost is the availability and quality of feedstock at competitive prices. A biogas plant needs organic feedstock which makes it empirical to segregate the MSW before being fed into the anaerobic digester. Cities like Indore are already source segregating their waste into biodegradable and non-biodegradable which has helped the installation of 550 TPD MSW based CBG plant in the city generating around 17 TPD of CBG which is used as transport fuel.

Next comes the need of investment and land for setting up CBG plants which need anywhere between 8 – 10 acres for a 5-7 TPD CBG plant. Establishing biogas infrastructure requires significant investment. The lack of financial resources and infrastructure can be a barrier to widespread adoption, particularly in economically challenged urban areas. The municipal corporations can enter into PPP model here with CBG plant EPC and O&M companies to set up and operate the plant.

There are several technological challenges also as biogas production and utilisation technologies require proper maintenance and skilled operation. Lack of technical expertise and infrastructure can hinder the effectiveness of biogas systems. In addition to this, successful adoption of biogas technologies requires public awareness and acceptance. Community education is crucial to dispel misconceptions and promote the benefits of biogas. Lastly, but most importantly, clear and supportive regulatory frameworks are essential for the growth of biogas adoption. Inconsistent or unclear regulations may pose challenges for investors and project developers.

Que: In your opinion, what is the scalability of biogas projects in India, urban and rural?

Ans: The scalability of biogas projects in India varies between rural and urban settings, and both present unique challenges and opportunities. In both rural and urban contexts, the scalability of biogas projects is closely linked to community involvement, government support, technological advancements, and the availability of organic waste as a feedstock. A holistic and integrated approach, taking into account local conditions and needs, is crucial for successful scalability.

In the rural context, Agricultural Residue Utilisation for biogas plants can be transformed into an organised sector. Community-Based Models can be implemented wherein multiple households can share a biogas facility, promoting a sense of community ownership and reducing individual investment burdens. There are already more than 5 million small scale plants installed in rural areas, under the NNBOMP scheme, which now comes under the National Bioenergy Program. There is still a huge potential from agriculture-based residues and livestock manure which can be utilised in rural based small scale biogas plants or in CBG plants.

At the urban front, India generates more than 62 million metric tonnes of municipal solid waste. Roughly 50 percent of the MSW is organic in nature and can be utilised as feedstock. Similarly, there are huge number of poultry farms, sugar mills and distilleries, which all produce significant waste streams that are considered high quality feedstock for large scale CBG plants. Utilising decentralised biogas systems in urban neighbourhoods can enhance scalability. Small-scale biogas units at the community level can collectively contribute to significant waste-to-energy conversion.

The scalability of urban biogas projects also depends on attracting investments for technology upgradation and infrastructure development. Up-to-date and efficient technologies can enhance the overall performance of biogas systems. So far, we have 68 CBG plants that are functional in India with average capacity of cumulative generation of more than 300 tonnes per day of CBG.

Overall, India has potential to generate around 15 million metric tonnes of CBG annually and so there is a tremendous scope in scalability once the challenges mentioned above are addressed.

Que: Indian Biogas Association has mentioned the potential of 100 large-scale biogas plants becoming operational this year. Could you share some insights into these projects and their significance?

Ans: Due to the several pushes given by the central and state governments, large-scale biogas plants are a reality on the ground. The favourite substrate is the press mud coming out of sugar factories, followed by the paddy straw. In general, the technology in almost all these plants is meant to handle multiple feedstocks to derisk the feedstock uncertainly. At present, the area being covered by the upcoming plants is near the sugar factory or paddy fields.

As the CBG prices are indexed with the current CNG prices, the viability of such projects seems promising. Many of these plants are coming up with a customised strategy for the sale of biofertilizer.

Que: What are the prospects for biogas in rural India, and what challenges need to be overcome to realise biogas's potential?

Ans: Since agriculture is predominantly rural, agricultural activities generate residue and animal farming generates animal manure, the prospects of biogas in rural India are really good. These include agricultural residue utilisation, livestock integration, rural electrification, improved cooking solution, and community-based models.

The challenges we envisage are lack of awareness, financial barriers, and lack of suitable technical expertise for the operation and maintenance of plants, and lastly, widespread market acceptance for the organic manure that is generated from biogas plants.

Que: How does the Indian Biogas Association support the development and implementation of biogas projects in rural regions?

Ans: The Indian Biogas Association is the first and largest nationwide association of biogas stakeholders ranging from plant operators, planners, equipment manufacturers, and representatives of public bodies, researchers and academia. We are dedicated to the proliferation of the biogas industry and have been constantly striving to identify and manage the gaps barriers and challenges faced by biogas industry stakeholders.

IBA helps to ensure a proper technical, financial, and social sustainability model from an organic waste handling perspective. The association is active on several fronts including policy advocacy with spreading proper awareness about biogas in the and provides all-round services to the sector from a push perspective. IBA also provides online and offline biogas training programs for the development of skilled manpower for the sector. IBA already worked with several institutions and bilateral agencies for sustainable growth of the sector including GAIL, ICF, JICA, PwC, World bank, German Biogas Association and so on.

Que: Biogas is known for its versatility. How does it address issues of waste management and waste-to-energy conversion in urban areas?

Ans: The huge quantities of MSW generated can be collected, segregated and organic fraction sent to biogas facilities where it can be converted to CBG. This CBG can be utilised as vehicle fuel in place of CNG, cooking fuel in place of PNG and LPG. It can also be used in industries which utilise other fuel sources like coal, LPG, furnace oils etc. Decentralised biogas facilities can directly convert biogas to electricity thus reducing dependence on grid supply of electricity.

As an example from approximately 11500 tonnes of MSW generated per day the potential of CBG is almost around 2,30,000 kg per day from Delhi itself! Once the landfill is free of organic wastes, it also means that the scientific waste management becomes much easier.

Que: Are there any success stories of biogas adoption that have particularly impressed you, in terms of their social, economic, or environmental impact in rural India?

Ans: In rural India, major work has been done by the government of India through the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy (MNRE). The ministry has been enabling the Biogas sector in India with the help of various schemes which facilitate the spread and utilisation of biogas facilities in geographically isolated, rural, and partially urban regions of the nation.

Schemes like the New National Biogas and Organic Manure Program (NNBOMP), earlier called the National Biogas and Manure Management Program, and the Biogas Power Generation (Off-grid) and Thermal energy application Program (BPGTP), have been in effect since long and were finally consolidated into a single Biogas Programme called the National Bioenergy Program which also authorised the continuation of these schemes up to March 31, 2026.

With the help of schemes like NNBOMP, so far there are more than 50 lakh small scale (1-25m3 capacity) biogas plants installed across India with the purpose of reduction in Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, improved sanitation, and the facilitation of the management and utilisation of biogas plant- slurry as an organic manure. Additionally, the programme aims to empower women, as well as create employment opportunities in rural areas.

As per Budget Announcement 2023-24, 500 new ‘waste to wealth’ plants under GOBARdhan scheme will be established for promoting circular economy. These will include 200 compressed biogas (CBG) plants, including 75 plants in urban areas, and 300 community or cluster-based plants. These plants will be established primarily by private sector with support from stakeholder Ministries/Departments. Several such initiatives have already been started on ground.

This is an impressive feat and show the intent of government for promoting renewable energy at the root level in India.

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