GOBAR-Dhan: CSE’s roadmap can address the challenges faced by Bio-CNG in India

CSE worked closely with the Ministry of Jal Shakti & identified the opportunities that can be tapped to realise the potential of organic waste in the country

Siddharth Ghanshyam Singh
Published: Thursday 09 February 2023
Sometimes, Asia’s largest paddy straw-based CBG plant also ends up burning as high as 10 per cent of the gas produced due to limited offtake of gas. Representative photo: iStock.

The latest budget has earmarked Rs 10,000 crore under the GOBAR-Dhan scheme for setting up 500 new ‘waste to wealth’ plants to accelerate India’s clean energy transition. Some 200 compressed bio-gas (CBG) plants and 300 community and cluster-based plants are on the anvil.

Bio-CNG, also known as Compressed Biogas (CBG), is an upgraded version of biogas. When purified up to 98 per cent, it is suitable to be used as a green fuel for transportation or filling of cylinders. The process relies on high pressure and hence is called CBG.

Also read: GOBAR-Dhan: Scheme announced in budget a welcome step, but challenges ahead

The technology can provide clean energy and can deal with air pollution at three levels by trimming methane emissions, waste burning and fossil fuel-powered automobiles.

However, there are critical challenges that need to be addressed as we move ahead.

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based non-profit, worked closely with the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DDWS) of the Ministry of Jal Shakti to create a roadmap for establishing circularity in waste management across the country.

The working group, led by CSE, consulted multiple stakeholders to understand the issues faced by the plant operators engaged in the production of CBG. Some of the key issues that were identified were as follows:

  • Existing and functional biogas plants are challenged with an inconsistent supply of feedstock, leading to underutilisation of the facility.
  • Limited offtake of produced biogas.
  • Limited market for fermented organic manure, especially in the local market.

For instance, Asia’s largest paddy straw-based CBG plant in Sangrur, Punjab, is owned and operated by Verbio — Germany’s leading bio-energy company.

The plant requires a feedstock of 350 tonnes per day (TPD) and has the design capacity to produce 33 TPD of biogas.

The farmers are the primary source of the feedstock and Verbio clears agricultural plots after harvest without charging the farmers.

However, there are biomass aggregators in the region who charge as high as Rs 3,000 per acre of land. Hence, most farmers in the catchment area are not interested in clearing their farms by paying the price and they rely on stubble burning.

Also read: Budget kick: Keep these factors in mind while setting up a Bio-CNG plant

Verbio plant has to spend between Rs 3,500 and Rs 4,500 per tonne of feedstock for collection, storage and protection of the feedstock. Revenue for the plant is sourced from the offtake of biogas and fermented organic manure (FOM), as well as carbon credits.

The commercial partner for the offtake of biogas is Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. The 33 TPD plant is currently operating at a 5 TPD capacity, mainly due to limited feedstock availability and deficient offtake of the gas produced.

Sometimes the plant also ends up flaring (burning) as high as 10 per cent of the gas produced due to limited offtake of gas. The gas is transported roughly 100 km away using the plant’s own trucks and cascades for transporting and storing the gas.

In addition, the offtake of the FOM is severely limited due to the high moisture content and an imbalanced carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratio, which stems from the high carbon content of the feedstock.

There are no standards for the carbon-rich FOM generated by the plant, restricting the offtake of a co-product and thus reducing economic viability, said Ashish Kumar, managing director of Verbio in a consultation organised by CSE and the Ministry of Jal Shakti.

Way forward

The roadmap developed by CSE identified the opportunities that can be tapped to realise the potential of organic waste in the country. Some of the identified opportunities are listed below:

  • Using an inventory of agri-residue and animal waste to practically predict the design capacity of the bio-methanation plant and create an enabling environment for the private entities
  • Optimise the Sustainable Alternatives Towards Affordable Transporation scheme, MNRE Policy and GOBAR-Dhan scheme to increase the offtake of biogas and fermented organic manure at the local and national markets.

The roadmap also suggested some recommendations for state and the Centre governments. It suggested the rural development department of the states to ensure the capacity building of elected and appointed functionaries to promote bio-methanation and create an enabling environment.

The department can also adopt the public-private partnership (PPP) model to set up a bio-methanation plant and support the private operator with local data on feedstock supply at the commissioning and planning stage.

The document suggested the department to encourage panchayats and local governments to partner with self-help groups/farmers cooperatives/milk unions/diaries/cattle farms with a formalised agreement to ensure the feedstock supply to the plant.

It is to be ensured that the farmers do not have to pay to get their land cleared of stubble. This will ensure the availability of feedstock for the biogas plants.

Also read: A primer on this coming of age tech that can deal with air pollution at 3 levels

State rural development departments, in consultation with the department of transport, need to identify and explore the local market for the offtake of biogas for use in local vehicles through flexible registration policies and subsidies.

The department needs to engage with farmers cooperatives and fertiliser outlets to promote the offtake of bio-fertiliser as a by-product from the bio methanation plant, the roadmap recommended.

In addition to this, CSE suggested that the challenges can be overcome by coordinating various ministries at the Centre.

The challenges identified cannot be dealt with by a single ministry in the country. There are a lot of cross-cutting issues due to the variety of stakeholders involved in the entire value chain covering the farm-to-fuel cycle.

The roadmap recommended the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD), Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare (MoAFW), Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG) and Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MoNRE) to issue an advisory to all the states to create an enabling environment for offtake and marketing of biogas and FOM with special focus on the local market.

MoAFW will have to develop standards for FOM derived from plants operating on different kinds of feedstock, for instance, agri-residue or municipal solid waste.

MoNRE and MoPNG need to document and share the best practices on the offtake of biogas and FOM with an advisory to address the current challenges associated with the same.

MoAFW should review the current scope of market development assistance to promote carbon-rich FOM in agriculture, the document suggested.

Read more:

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.