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Biomass Energy:VILLAGERS’ HOPE TO POWER SUPPLY,by Radhakrishna Rao, 5 October 2007 Print E-mail

People And Their Problems

New Delhi, 5 October 2007

Biomass Energy


By Radhakrishna Rao

Today 56 per cent of India’s 700-million rural residents lack an adequate power supply. More than 1,00,000 villages in the country are not connected to the central power grid.  This dismal state of affairs is after 60 years of Independence. What should be done to give the rural poor a better life, is a question which needs to be addressed by the powers that be.  

A section of developmental experts in the country provide an answer. They propose a comprehensive law covering renewable sector in line with a similar law in force in Germany and China. In a major initiative towards giving a boost to the renewable energy sector, Pune-based World Institute of Sustainable Energy (WISE) has come out with a draft law which seeks to increase the target of electricity generation for renewables to 10 per cent by 2010 and to 20 per cent by 2020 of the total electricity produced in the country. With a view to achieve the goal of energy independence, the WISE draft has suggested technology missions on solar, bio-fuel and hydrogen energy sources.

So far technological innovations and cost efficiency are contributing to the steady growth of biomass energy here. According to the experts, while it costs about Rs 350-400 million to generate one MW of power through the solar photovoltaic route, it costs about Rs. 45 million for the same through wind energy. However, coal thermal energy system costs Rs 38 million to generate one MW and if it is the path of biomass gasification it would cost less than Rs 30 million to generate the same amount.

Therefore, decentralized biomass gasification plants are being considered as an ideal solution to meet the growing energy needs of villages, which boast of sufficient quantity of biomass in the form of agricultural residue. Moreover, the biomass gasification route to generate energy is considered an environmentally sound and economical viable option.

“India produces an estimated 600-million tones of agricultural residue every year. If all of this waste is gasified, it can produce 79,000-MW of power—about 63 per cent of the total power available in the country,” says Anil K Rajvanshi, of the non-profit Nimbalkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) at Phaltan, Maharastra. The power availability from biomass is dependent on the consistent availability of the high quality feedstock require to run the biomass power plant, he adds.

Asia’s first community-based biomass gasifier power plant at Kabbigere village, about 30 km from Tumkur town in Karnataka, is contributing 0.5 MW of power to the Central power grid to ensure round-the-clock uninterrupted power  supply to Kabbigere, Chikkamannahalli, Chikkarasanhalli, Ajjenahalli and Obenahalli villages for both irrigation and domestic use. This pilot project has been funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), India-Canada Environmental Facility (ICEF) as well as the Central and State Government.

The technology being used here was developed and perfected by the Advanced Bio-residue Energy Technologies Society (ABETS) promoted by the Combustion, Gasification and Propulsion Laboratory (CGPL) of the Department of Aerospace Engineering of Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science (IISc). According to CGPL Prof P J Paul, who is closely associated with ABETS, “Our technology package known as open top re-burn downdraft biomass gasification generates gas from a range of biomass that comprises forest residue, agricultural residue, woodchips and bagasse”.

In a significant development aimed at giving a commercial edge to the biomass gasification technology, Cummins India Ltd and IISc have entered into an agreement for commercialization of biomass gasification power generation system. The two institutions will jointly pursue the work on integrated development and the release of power generation systems based on the open  top re-burn downdraft biomass gasification system developed by ABETS.

As envisaged now, the two will jointly launch a range of biomass generation sets—anything between 2.5- KV to multiple unit power plants of over 1.5-MW. As pointed out by Ram Praveen Swaminathan, Vice-President, Power Generation Business, Cummins India, “We are committed to developing power generation technologies based on lower cost and sustainable feedstock. This initiative promises a significant life cycle cost advantage over hydrocarbon fuels and also enables us to develop sustainable energy systems”.

Meanwhile, the Cuban fishing hamlet of Cocodrilo known for its scenic tourist attractions has gone in  for ABETS  biomass energy technology to put an end to its heavy and continuing dependence on costly and environmentally unfriendly diesel-run power generators. Dr S Dasappa of IISC who had played a key role in developing the “clean biomass combustion technology”, says the Cuban   village will now be able to generate producer gas from a resource that is “available in abundance in the island”. The gasifier can be fed with just about any type of biomass—from the agricultural residue to wood chips and forest residues” he adds. 

Elaborating, Dasappa says, “Once the biomass is fed into the reactor, it is converted into a gaseous fuel. The fuel if cooled and cleaned with water and ash filtered off by a filtering system to make it suitable for the engine. The water is not wasted; it is treated and reused. The exhaust from the engine goes right back into the system to dry the biomass and complete the cycle”.

Invariably Cocodrilo will “showcase” this technology package that will be ultimately replicated in the rest of the island. As things stand today, the island nation of Cuba hopes to generate 3.5 MW power though this innovative biomass gasification system of Indian origin.

Nearer home, about 48 villages inhabited by  1,20,000 people in the  agriculturally prosperous Mandya district of Karnataka, gets electricity from a 4.5-MW biomass based power plant situated at Kirugavalu village. This plant counted among the largest biomass-based power reactors in India makes of agricultural wastes such as sugarcane refuse and coconut fronds available aplenty in the villages of the district. Rustics sell such waste to Malavalli Power Plant Private Ltd (MPPL) which is responsible for the plant operations and power supply.

“We have established a supply chain to procure farm wastes from villages within a radius of 10 kms and transport them to the plant. This is very essential to keep the plant running year-round without any disruption in feedstock supply and power generation,” says a spokesman of MPPL. He elaborates that the plant consumes over 100-tonnes of biomass a day. The biomass waste is chipped up and fed into the boilers of the plant for combustion. The steam produced from the heat is used to drive the turbine to generate electricity.

Clearly and apparently, energy experts’ familiar with the rural Indian energy scenario point out that power generation through the route of biomass gasification is the best option for village communities to get uninterrupted power supply in both a cost efficient and environmentally sustainable manner. --INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)




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