Interview: Piyush Sohani

Country Director at Sistema.bio India

In India, We Aim to Install Over 1 Million Biodigesters by 2030

July 09, 2024. By Abha Rustagi

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By reducing greenhouse gas emissions and indoor air pollution, our biodigesters contribute to India's journey towards achieving net-zero emissions while promoting regenerative agricultural practices through the use of biofertilizers, says Piyush Sohani, Country Director, Sistema.bio India in an interview with Abha Rustagi, Associate Editor, Energetica India.

Que: Could you provide a brief overview of Sistema.bio’s journey in India?

Ans: Sistema.bio is a global social enterprise that works with smallholder farmers to provide them access to modern innovative biogas technology. We have been operating in India since 2017, establishing our Indian entity in 2018 with headquarters in Pune. Employing over 800 people across the country, we have installed more than 80,000 biodigesters in the last six years across 22 states, including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and Chhattisgarh, directly impacting over 4.5 lakh people.

Last year we inaugurated our new manufacturing facility in Chakan, Pune, which is the world’s largest manufacturing facility for biogas plants. Our facility is spread across 1,30,000 square feet and boasts a capacity of manufacturing over 1,00,000 biodigesters annually.

Our modern biogas technology is approved by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) under the National Biogas Programme and is eligible for Central Financial Assistance, ensuring affordability and accessibility for farmers. Earlier this year, we achieved a significant milestone with the successful completion of the first phase of our India Dairy Biogas Carbon Program, installing 37,500 biodigesters and helping offset 400,000 tons of carbon credits annually. Over the years, we have collaborated with numerous private and cooperative dairies, alongside more than 50 corporations, foundations and NGOs.


Que: What motivates Sistema.bio’s commitment to expanding the use of biodigester technology in India?

Ans: Sistema.bio’s commitment to our expanding biodigester technology in India is driven by several compelling factors. India’s extensive agricultural sector, with its 70 million dairy farmers, presents a significant opportunity for us. The government of India has installed over 5 million biogas plants in the country in the last 30 years. We aim to significantly increase the biogas adoption in the country. Moreover, we recognize the pressing energy challenges these farmers face, as more than two-thirds still rely on firewood while LPG is expected to become more expensive in the future. Our biodigesters offer a clean energy source that directly addresses this energy deficit while also mitigating environmental concerns.

Our technology is designed not just to meet farmers’ energy needs but also to efficiently manage animal waste, generating biogas for cooking and biofertilizer for crops. This dual benefit enhances farm productivity and promotes sustainable agricultural practices. Given India's status as the largest market for biogas plants, there is immense potential for widespread adoption of our technology, aligning perfectly with Sistema.bio’s mission to empower rural communities and promote a cleaner, more sustainable agricultural future.

Through collaborations with government bodies like the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and corporate partners, we have developed innovative financing models to ensure that our technology is affordable to farmers of all scales. This proactive stance ensures that even small-scale farmers can adopt our biogas solutions without financial barriers.

The environmental and social impacts of our work are crucial motivators. By significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and indoor air pollution, our biodigesters contribute to India's journey towards achieving net-zero emissions while promoting regenerative agricultural practices through the use of biofertilizers.


Que: How do you envision India’s role as a manufacturing hub for biogas technology and its export potential to other regions?

Ans: India's growing bioenergy sector, coupled with rapid technological advancements, is attracting enterprises keen on tapping into its vast market potential. Supported by favorable manufacturing policies and a skilled workforce, India offers a conducive environment for establishing and scaling up manufacturing facilities.

India's role as a manufacturing hub is reinforced by robust demand for biogas systems not only within India but also across Asia and Africa. Our manufacturing facility, with a capacity exceeding 100,000 biodigesters annually, not only caters to regional needs but also facilitates exports across Africa, consolidating India's position as a pivotal player in global biogas technology.


Que: How do your biodigesters help smallholder farmers convert animal waste into renewable energy and organic fertilizer?

Ans: Our biodigesters efficiently process various types of animal waste, including cattle waste, pig waste, and poultry waste. The daily input requirements vary based on the size of our biogas plants. For instance, our smallest model, the Sistema 6, typically requires 45-50 kg of cattle dung per day, while our larger model, the Sistema 200, needs around 2 tons of cattle dung daily.

The biogas output directly correlates with the daily input of animal waste. The Sistema 6, with its daily input of 45-50 kg, produces 2 cubic meters of biogas per day which can replace approximately 22 kg of LPG/month or provide 3-4 hours of cooking daily for a family of 5-6 people. In contrast, the Sistema 200, requiring 2 tons of input daily, produces 70 cubic meters of biogas per day. This substantial output not only supports 5-6 hours of cooking daily but also allows for electricity generation using a biogas generator for 6-7 hours each day.

In addition to biogas, farmers benefit from receiving hundreds of liters of bio-fertilizer daily as a byproduct. This liquid bio-fertilizer can potentially replace 70-75% of chemical fertilizer input in agricultural fields, offering significant agricultural and environmental benefits.


Que: What are your long-term goals for Sistema.bio in India and globally over then next decade, particularly in the biogas and renewable energy sector?

Ans: Scaling our operations in India posed challenges due to its vast geography and
diverse cultures. However, over six years, we built a strong service network and tailored sales strategies, reaching more than 80,000 households across 22 states.

Looking ahead, our long-term goals for the next decade are ambitious and focused on significant growth both in India and globally. In India, we aim to install over 1 million biodigesters by 2030. Globally, we plan to expand our reach to more countries, with the goal of reducing 1% of annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.


Que: How do you collaborate with government bodies like the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to enhance the reach and effectiveness of your biodigesters?

Ans: Collaboration is at the heart of our approach. In India, we have established strong partnerships with a wide range of organizations, including foundations, NGOs, cooperatives, private dairy companies, and rural development organizations. These collaborations enable us to reach and impact hundreds of thousands of farmers each year.

Our technology is approved and recognized by the Government of India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) under their National Biogas Programme. MNRE offers Central Financial Assistance (CFA) for the installation of biogas plants and generators, significantly reducing the financial burden on farmers. For small-scale biogas plants, the financial assistance varies based on size, ranging from ₹9,800 to ₹52,800 per plant for capacities between 1 to 25 cubic meters per day. For biogas generators, subsidies are provided for both power generation and thermal applications, with amounts ranging from ₹35,000 to ₹45,000 per kilowatt for power generation, and ₹17,500 to ₹22,500 per kilowatt equivalent for thermal applications, for plant capacities between 25 to 2500 cubic meters per day.

This financial support from MNRE effectively shortens the payback period for farmers investing in biogas plants and generators, making these solutions more economically viable.


Que: What new products or services are you developing to complement your existing biodigester technology and further support renewable energy adoption?

Ans: Our primary goal is to empower farmers by maximizing the utilization of biogas energy and biofertilizer in their agricultural practices. To complement our existing biodigester technology and advance renewable energy adoption, we're focusing on several innovative products and services.

One key development is a biogas-based water heater, for which we've already completed a prototype. This device addresses farmers' heating needs efficiently. We're also working on remote monitoring devices that enable farmers to oversee biogas production remotely, enhancing operational control and efficiency.

Additionally, we're actively collaborating with biogas engine manufacturers to optimize energy production from biogas. This partnership aims to tailor energy solutions precisely to farmers' requirements, ensuring reliable and sustainable energy sources for their operations.


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