MNRE Invites Expression of Interest to Study the Biomass Potential in India

Recently, central government’s cabinet, headed by prime minister Narendra Modi, approved the National Policy on Biofuels – 2018. Biofuels in India are of strategic importance as they integrate well with the government’s ongoing initiatives, such as Make in India, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and Skill Development.

Considering the lasting impact this policy can have on India’s renewable success story, Mercom’s news team sat down with Vinod Jagan, the co-founder and managing partner of Quantum Green (Bangalore) to discuss the various issues challenging the biofuels sector and the new policy can do to bring about change.

Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:

Biomass makes up a small portion of India’s electric generation, and power generated from biomass fell year-over-year, why do you think that is?

Lack of government support and a decline in the farming sector are major reasons for the decrease. Finally, massive competition amongst biomass suppliers has taken a toll on the market.

What are your thoughts on waste-to-energy generation?

Our country has a massive potential of waste to energy. For a stat, our metros collectively produce close to 60 MT of waste per day. Even if the rest of the urban and rural areas contribute only 40 MT per day, we still contribute 100 MT per day of waste which gets land filled and erodes our soil.

Soil erosion has a direct impact on agriculture.  Additionally, it will pollute and expose us to decay, which could soon become a pandemic for the society. Hence, it’s imperative for us to gear up and protect ourselves by providing lucrative and environmental waste to energy projects. Renewable energy combined with waste to energy has a potential to address at least 30 percent of the country’s power demand. Let’s brace for a revolution.

What is the current cost of a waste-to-energy plant and what is the scale that is in use across India?

It depends on factors such as the type and size of the plant. We have commissioned a 50 ton/day biogas plant, which feeds on the fruit and vegetable waste, for a sum of approximately ₹50 million. ​Organic waste plants differ from that of an inorganic waste plant such as plastic, metal and e-waste. This also includes the cost.  And since India is a populous country, there is already a massive deficit in handling the waste it produces. Hence scalability will be enormous going forward.

What more can be done about it?

Though the current central government has introduced very good initiatives such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Gobhar Dhan, Smart Cities etc., movement on the individual state level has been dismal. Hence, we need to be more aggressive in implementation of these initiatives​.

Considering agriculture is such a big part of the economy, why hasn’t agricultural waste been turned into biofuel in greater volumes?

Two reasons come to mind: the lack of awareness among farmers about the potential of agriculture waste, and the lack of government interest to encourage non-conventional fuel sources. Other reasons include an overall decline in agriculture, and the commercialization of agriculture lands.

What needs to happen for biomass sector to take off in India?

The biomass sector has taken off already, but needs more support. This can happen by encouraging farmers to grow such crops and make it financially viable for the farmers to create the biomass briquettes. Currently, none of the farmers see a profit, which is discouraging. Additionally, banks should offer attractive loans for new plants. ​Finally, the government should create a feasible pipeline for organizations in biogas and waste to energy sector.

Is the policy of using 5-10 percent of biomass pellets alongside coal across the country a game changer?

Absolutely. However, the pollution control boards must ensure compliance – which is not happening. ​

How about ethanol supply? Can ethanol bio refineries be a viable option when considering latest government incentives?

Yes. ​ Ethanol bio refineries can be a viable option considering latest government incentives. Planned implementation is very much required for this to be a success.

What do you think of the biofuels policy of 2018?

Its appears progressive and encouraging. No doubt, if its implemented in planned and strategic manner, Biofuels policy will be a game changer.

Any other thoughts on the sector?

The Importance of biofuels must be first be imparted to our country’s population. Farmers must be educated and incentivized to take up initiatives.  On the business side, the ease of conducting business must be worked on. Some examples include: Financial institutions must give loans for waste to energy projects. Government should encourage organizations which are into biofuel and waste to energy projects through tax concessions, monetary aid, and by implementing encouraging business policy. If these things are addressed, biofuels can be a game changer in the country. Ultimately, it is not just about fuel economy, but also about waste management and environmental concerns (which in turn affects our health).

Saumy Prateek Saumy is a senior staff reporter with MercomIndia.com covering business and energy news since 2016. Prior to Mercom, Saumy was a copy editor at Thomson Reuters. Saumy earned his Bachelors Degree in Journalism & Mass Communication from the Manipal Institute of Communication at Manipal University. More articles from Saumy Prateek.