CSE analysis: Industries in Delhi-NCR shifting to cleaner fuels, but major roadblocks to be addressed

Continuous PNG supply, air pollution control devices, stronger emissions monitoring systems need of the hour

By Sowmiya Kannappan
Published: Wednesday 15 February 2023
Chemical factory in Matsya Industrial Area in Alwar. Photo: Sowmiya Kannappan

The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) released an order in June 2022 with a list of approved fuels like piped natural gas (PNG) and biomass, banning polluting fuels like coal. ‘

Another CAQM order mandated industries of Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) to shift towards those cleaner fuels latest by September 9, 2022 (for industries in areas in NCR where PNG infrastructure supply is available) and by December 31, 2022 (for industries in areas in NCR where PNG infrastructure supply is not available). 

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) conducted an in-depth survey of the industries in the Matsya Industrial Area (MIA) and Bhiwadi in Alwar district to understand the pattern of fuel shift, changes and tentative costs required for making this shift, challenges faced by industries for shifting towards cleaner fuels and the strategies adopted to combat them.

Here are the findings:

Effective fuel-shift after CAQM order: Out of the two regions studied, industries in Bhiwadi are shifting towards PNG as the area already has a pipeline; industries in MIA are opting for biomass because the area does not have a PNG pipeline network. 

Almost all industries in Alwar and Bhiwadi have moved to CAQM-approved fuels, according to the Rajasthan State Pollution Control Board. Exceptions include a few industries which are using wood charcoal (permitted only for cloth ironing in NCR) and a metal-working industry that is reportedly using coal in MIA.

Expensive PNG and affordable biomass: To shift from coal or coke-fired boiler to PNG boiler, industries require hefty investment to the tune of Rs 1 crore, which includes laying of PNG pipelines, new PNG boiler and auxiliaries such as PNG flow meter, gas strainers, pressure valves and switches. 

Most of the industries surveyed in Bhiwadi spent at least Rs 1 crore for the transition to PNG; adding to it, the cost of PNG is also high at Rs 52 / cubic metre (2023) which was as low as Rs 24 / cubic metre in 2021.

On the other hand, shifting to biomass meant an almost zero to less than Rs 5 lakh capital cost, with biomass available for as low as Rs 5 / kilogram, since most of the industries in MIA and Bhiwadi were found to have boilers that support easy fuel-shift. 

Roadblock in PNG availability pushing cost: The ongoing global crisis and some other factors resulted in the supply of only 70-80 per cent of the contracted PNG to industries that already have PNG supply, the survey showed. 

The industries which have applied for PNG connection after the CAQM order have not got the connection yet, it was observed.

Instead, these industries are advised to use low sulphur heavy stock (LSHS) as an alternate cleaner fuel. Industries having spent enough for the PNG pipeline and new boilers are worried they have to make further changes to the burner for LSHS.

This global crisis and multiple layers of state taxation has also led to a surge in the procurement costs of gas from Rs 24 / cubic metre in 2021 to Rs 52 / cubic metre in 2023, which led to a direct increase in their production cost. 

Since the industries are getting only 70-80 per cent of the contracted PNG, the remaining 20-30 per cent is being procured by industries at a special price mechanism known as ‘spot price’. This is approximately four times higher than the contracted PNG price. 

So, industries have started implementing a variety of strategies to address this cost issue, including raising the price of the finished product, switching partly to other cleaner fuels (like LSHS and LPG) while using less PNG, installing solar plants to reduce energy costs, switching to alternative raw materials and lowering reject rates.

Controlling particulate emissions is still a question: The ultimate aim of biomass firing in industries is to eliminate stubble burning on the field and the subsequent improvement in air quality in Delhi-NCR. 

In line with this, the CAQM order said that industries in Delhi-NCR which have biomass fuelled boilers must take necessary efforts to reduce particulate matter emissions below 80 microgram per cubic metre and aim for bringing it under 50 microgram per cubic metre.

CSE’s discussions with experts revealed that, among all the available air pollution control devices, only bag filters and electrostatic precipitators are capable of reducing the PM emissions below 50 microgram per cubic metre. 

But, out of the 15 biomass-firing industries that were surveyed, CSE found that only one industry had a bag filter. All the other industries were found using less efficient cyclone separators, dust collectors or wet scrubbers.

Way forward

A continuous PNG supply is needed to ensure industries continue using cleaner fuels. This is because industries are being supplied only 70-80 per cent of the contracted PNG, which is currently making it difficult for them to continue their production. 

At present, PNG goes through many layers of state taxation before it reaches the industries, making the fuel economically unviable, particularly for small and medium scale industries in Alwar. So, it is suggested to bring PNG under the goods and services tax.

Biomass firing industries should instal air pollution control devices (APCD) that have the capacity to meet the emission standards such as bag filters or electrostatic precipitators. 

It is suggested that subsidies should be provided for small- and medium-scale industries for the installation of appropriate APCDs. Strict action needs to be initiated against industries that have not installed appropriate air pollution control devices while using biomass as a fuel.

Further, the emissions monitoring system should be strengthened. CSE’s analysis of online Continuous Emission Monitoring System (CEMS) data revealed that the information is not real-time and industries are not displaying data for prolonged periods. 

It was also noticed during the survey that only two out of the 15 surveyed biomass-firing industries have installed CEMS at designated places. 

Industrial area-specific pollution assessment studies need to be carried out for pollution abatement. Stack emission monitoring has to be streamlined and CEMS certification needs to be put in place to ensure proper emission monitoring as well maintain the quality of the data being displayed online.

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