Pollution

Biogas: A sustainable solution for curbing pollution, improving livelihoods & enhancing quality of life

Installing large-scale municipal biogas systems can help cities handle organic waste efficiently

 
By Gaurav Kedia
Published: Thursday 07 April 2022
Biogas: A sustainable solution for curbing pollution, improving livelihoods & enhancing quality of life Photo: iStock

Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for everyone at all ages is one of the key sustainable goals of the United Nation’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

Pollution caused by burning wood, fossil fuels and other materials (like refuse-derived fuel utilised in waste-to-energy plants) to produce energy for cooking, heating and lighting is one of the major roadblocks to improving health and quality of life for people. 

Pollutants emitted due to the burning of fossil fuels and biomass not only affect the health of people but are also responsible for climate change.

Every year, India generates almost 62 million tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW), roughly half of which is organic in nature. This organic fraction of MSW decomposes to produce methane, when disposed improperly like in landfills. 

Disposing of organic wastes in landfills or burning trash is an environmental as well as health hazard. Apart from causing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such unscientific waste disposal leads to diseases like dengue fever and malaria. 

Many chronic illnesses like asthma, emphysema, cancer and heart disease have also been linked to air pollution by numerous studies. 

The biogas solution can help make our cities clean and pollution-free. Leaching of toxic substances from landfills contaminates the groundwater. Decomposing organic matter releases huge amounts of methane into the environment, causing air pollution and global warming as methane is a very potent GHG. 

Installing large-scale municipal biogas systems can help cities handle organic waste efficiently to overcome the environmental and socio-economic challenges posed by overburdened landfills. Municipal waste can be fed into these plants to create clean and green fuel, along with biofertilisers, while keeping the cities clean and hygienic.

Over four million people die every year all over the world due to high levels of indoor air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels and biomass, according to statistics from the World Health Organization. 

The female members of a household are affected by indoor pollution as they spend more time inside the house. In this case, switching to biogas could be good for these women because they won't be exposed to harmful smoke and pollution.

Only 26.53 per cent of the total power generated in India is from renewable sources, according to estimates. The high dependence on non-renewable sources is the leading cause of the long-standing energy problems in the country. 

As the country aims to provide energy security to every citizen, biogas can play a critical role in transforming the energy dependence of rural and agricultural communities, which majorly depends on burning wood, dung, charcoal, coal and other fossil fuels for their energy needs. 

Installing biogas plants at the micro- and macro-level can address the critical issues of handling livestock manure and agricultural wastes, deteriorating soil quality, water pollution and deforestation. 

A fully functional biogas digester, for every tonne of feedstock processed, can reduce approximately 2.83 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in a year. Using biogas digesters to convert organic waste into clean energy can significantly contribute to countering challenges like pollution, climate change, livelihood inequalities and health in individual households as well as entire communities.

The positive impact of biogas does not end with providing energy inclusivity and reducing emissions. It also plays a crucial role in improving soil quality. The digestate, a by-product generated in the biogas plants, can be used as a biofertiliser as it is rich in organic content and revitalises the soil. 

The digestate is rich in micro- and macro-nutrients required by the plants and can replace the synthetic fertilisers that deteriorate the soil quality over time. The use of biofertilisers not only increases crop yield but also improves the nutrient content of the produce, thereby improving the health and well-being of consumers as well as that of soil.

Biogas can also help in reducing gender inequalities and empowering women, which, in turn, will improve the quality of lives. As rural households gain access to biogas as cooking fuel, women and girls do not need to spend time collecting firewood and other fuel and can utilise this spare time for education, acquiring new skills, and community work. 

As more and more women are educated and skilled, they have access to new employment and business opportunities that help them to be financially independent and have more decision-making power in the household. This will further help to improve the psychological and emotional health of women.

Biogas can significantly contribute to achieving several UN-mandated sustainable development goals (SDG) such as zero hunger; good health and wellbeing; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; sustainable, affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; reduced inequalities; sustainable cities and communities; and climate action. 

The biogas sector is poised to play a critical role in aiding the government and communities to improve the quality of life of the citizens as well as achieve the health and well-being of everyone. Biogas is an important part of a sustainable energy mix due to its environmental and social benefits. 

Biogas can be one of the best available and feasible options for addressing India's socio-environmental issues. Converting organic wastes into biogas can help in the reduction of pollution, unemployment and poor living conditions. 

The biogas industry may help governments meet all of the SDGs by reducing emissions, giving access to cleaner energy, assisting proper waste management practices, improving human health and contributing to the attainment of all of them. 

Organic wastes can be turned into green fuel that would reduce the dependence on the use of biomass and fossil fuels. This can also save millions of lives, while also lowering the dependency on natural gas imports as India currently imports a little over half of its total consumption of natural gas.

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