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A Renewable Energy Revolution With Agricultural Roots

Context

  • A private company’s first bio-energy plant has recently begun commercial operations in the Punjab district of Sangrur.
  • The plant will convert agricultural waste into wealth by producing compressed bio gas (CBG) from paddy straw, indicating the beginnings of a renewable energy revolution rooted in agriculture.

Relevance

GS Paper 3: Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.

Mains Question

Discuss India’s renewable energy generation capacity. What would be the most cost-effective way to increase India’s renewable energy generation capacity? Elaborate. (250 words)


Concerning the plant

  • The plant, built by Verbio AG, one of Germany’s leading bio-energy companies, will use approximately 2.1 million tonnes of a total of 18.32 million tonnes of paddy straw annually.
  • The plant will produce 600-650 tonnes of fermented organic manure per day, which can be used for organic farming. It will also reduce stubble-burning on 40,000-45,000 acres, resulting in a 1.5 lakh tonnes reduction in CO2 emissions per year.
  • This project, which uses paddy straw to produce CBG, is replicable across India and has the potential to transform the rural economy.

Background

  • Farmers in Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh have made it common practise to burn paddy stubble and biomass to prepare fields for the next crop, which must be sown within three to four weeks.
  • Because this practise is spread across millions of hectares, the resulting smoke clouds engulf the entire National Capital Territory of Delhi and neighbouring States for several weeks between October and December.

The Effects of Stubble Burning

  • Pollution: It emits a large amount of toxic pollutants into the atmosphere, including carcinogenic gases such as methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOC), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
  • These pollutants, once dispersed, have a negative impact on human and livestock health by creating a thick blanket of smog.
  • Soil Fertility: Burning husk on the ground depletes the soil’s nutrients, making it less fertile.
  • Heat Penetration: The heat generated by stubble burning penetrates the soil, causing moisture and beneficial microbes to be lost.
  • Stubble burning alters soil properties such as soil temperature, pH, moisture, available phosphorus, and soil organic matter.

Efforts to reduce stubble burning

  • Penalties: Crop residue burning was declared an offence under the Air Act of 1981, the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973, and other relevant Acts.
  • In addition, any farmer who violates the law will face a fine. Administrative officials at the village and block levels are used to enforce the law.
  • Broad plan: The Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjacent Areas (CAQM) had developed a framework and action plan for effective stubble burning prevention and control.
  • It includes in-situ management, which is the incorporation of paddy straw and stubble into the soil using heavily subsidised machinery, which is supported by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare’s crop residue management (CRM) Scheme.
  • The CRM Scheme: The Central Sector Scheme aims to address the problem of air pollution caused by stubble burning by subsidising crop residue management machinery.
  • Pusa Decomposer: A microbial consortium of fungal species (in liquid and capsule forms) developed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) that has been shown to be effective for rapid in-situ decomposition of paddy straw.
  • The Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) Smart Seeder has recently been included in the Crop Residue Management (CRM) subsidy scheme.
  • The PAU smart seeder manages paddy residues through incorporation and surface mulching, retaining the advantages of both the Happy Seeder and the Super Seeder in a single machine.
  • Regarding the Happy Seeder Machine: It is a tractor-driven machine that cuts and lifts paddy stubble (straw) while also sowing wheat and spreading the cut straw as mulch across fields.
  • The Super-seeder machine ploughs standing paddy residue while also sowing seeds for the next wheat crop in a single operation. The machine is more expensive and technologically superior to the Happy Seeder.
  • Ex-situ CRM initiatives include using paddy straw for biomass power projects and co-firing in thermal power plants.
  • Stubble can also be used as feedstock in 2G ethanol plants, feedstock in CBG plants, fuel in industrial boilers, waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, and packaging materials, among other things.
  • Because paddy straw has a high calorific value, it can be used as a fuel in biomass-based power plants.
  • Public Awareness Campaigns: Information is disseminated through kisan camps, trainings, and workshops, as well as campaigns in various print media, televised shows, and radio broadcasts, informing farmers about alternative crop residue uses and the health effects of crop residue burning.
  • Crop Diversification: Long-term efforts are being made to diversify cropping techniques by cultivating alternate crops (other than rice/paddy and wheat) that produce less crop residue and have longer gap periods between cropping cycles.
  • SATAT scheme: The Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation scheme invites Expressions of Interest from potential entrepreneurs to set up Compressed Bio-Gas production plants and make them available in the market for use in automotive fuels.
  • The Indian Biogas Association has recommended that testing labs be established in all states in order to meet the SATAT target of establishing 5,000 compressed biogas (CBG) plants by 2025.

A project is currently underway.

  • Consultation: In 2019, NITI Aayog approached FAO India about converting paddy straw and stubble into energy and identifying potential ex-situ uses of rice straw to supplement the in-situ programme.
  • Proposal: Following technical consultations with the public and private sectors, the FAO published a study on developing a crop residue supply chain in Punjab that will allow the collection, storage, and final use of rice straw for other productive services, specifically renewable energy production.
  • Outlay: According to the findings, it would take approximately 2,201 crore ($309 million) to collect, transport, and store 30% of the rice straw produced in Punjab in a 20-day period.
  • Environmental impact: This would reduce GHG emissions by approximately 9.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent and approximately 66,000 tonnes of PM 2.5.
  • Financial impact: Additionally, depending on market conditions, farmers can expect to earn between 550 and 1,500 per tonne of rice straw sold.

Rice straw’s utility in energy technologies

  • Meet scheme target: With 30% of rice straw produced in Punjab, the SATAT scheme’s 5% CBG production target can be met.
  • Paddy straw from one acre of crop can yield energy output (CBG) worth more than 17,000, representing a 30% increase in grain output. It is a prime example of a ‘wealth from waste’ strategy.
  • Ecological advantages: The plant’s slurry or fermented organic manure (CBG) will be useful as compost to replenish soils depleted of organic matter and reduce reliance on chemical fertilisers.
  • Economic benefits include increased local entrepreneurship, increased farmer income, and job opportunities for rural youth in the large value chain, which includes paddy harvest, collection, baling, transport and handling of biomass, and the CBG plant.

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