‘India is serious about bio-CNG’

Bio-CNG is a clean and green fuel that fulfils the aspirations of various government schemes, says Bijay Kumar, in-charge of the Centre's SATAT scheme for bio-CNG plants at the Indian Oil Corporation

By Ravleen Kaur
Published: Monday 06 March 2023

BIJAY KUMAR, in-charge of the Centre's SATAT scheme for bio-CNG plants at the Indian Oil CorporationBijay Kumar, in-charge of the Centre's SATAT scheme for bio-CNG plants at the Indian Oil Corporation

Bijay Kumar, in-charge of the Centre’s SATAT scheme for bio-CNG plants at the Indian Oil Corporation, blames the pandemic for the delays in meeting the scheme’s target of setting up 5,000 bio-CNG plants by 2023-24, and says the demand will peak now. Down To Earth spoke to Kumar on bio-CNG in India. Edited excerpts:

Ravleen Kaur: What is the potential of the Centre’s Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT) scheme?

Bijay Kumar: No other programme addresses as many issues as SATAT does. Bio-CNG is a clean and green fuel that fulfils the aspirations of various government schemes like Swatch Bharat, Atmanirbhar Bharat, Make in India, strengthening the rural economy, organic farming, reduction in carbon emission to achieve the net zero target and reduction in the import of fossil fuel.

SATAT has two unique selling points. The rate of CNG was Rs 40 per kg in Delhi in 2018 when SATAT was launched. And we decided to buy it at Rs 46 with GST. This was a very bold step for us. Also, the world over, wherever bio-CNG is produced, they inject it into the gas grid. But in India, we decided to sell it from fuel retail outlets as gas grid connectivity is low here.

RK: What are the reasons behind its slow progress?

BK: Up till now, 40 plants have been commissioned and 80 retail outlets are selling bio-CNG. The progress slowed during the pandemic, but things are not stagnant. Once a milestone of 100 or 500 plants is achieved, people will gain faith and the pace of growth will increase. A target of 5,000 plants will not be far then.

RK: What are the challenges with bio-CNG production?

BK: There are challenges on all fronts, like the arrangement of feedstock, technology and equipment availability and distribution of the gas. The short window of the harvest season is a challenge in the case of agri feedstock-based plants. There is not enough infrastructure and machinery to collect the waste.

Initially, we restricted the radius of feedstock collection and distribution of bio-CNG to 25 km to save on unnecessary transportation, but we had to increase the radius to 150 km later because there is no demand in the 25 km periphery of the plant even if the feedstock is there. The uptake of CNG in the auto sector is less than 10 per cent today.

Unless there is a market for CNG in the transport sector, distribution will remain a challenge. Also, there are no takers for organic fertiliser right now because people tend to compare it with chemical fertilisers that are a quick fix solution but harm our soil.

RK: How is the government solving these challenges?

BK: The government is very serious about this scheme and many issues are being dealt with simultaneously. The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has issued a circular to include bio-CNG in the “white category” (of non-polluting industries that do not require environmental clearances).

Before SATAT, there were no specifications for the sale of organic fertilisers. We requested the Union Ministry of Fertilisers to look into this and now there are clear specifications for both solid and liquid organic fertilisers. Soon, fertiliser companies will also be issued circulars to buy organic fertilisers from bio-CNG companies, but the quantity and the rate are still to be finalised.

Also, the government plans to connect 400 cities with the CNG grid in five years, which will take care of the distribution. Several state governments are already offering incentives like subsidised land and electricity for bio-CNG plants and feedstock assurance. With all this, I am confident that SATAT will soon be a success.

This was first published in the February 16-28, 2023 print edition of Down To Earth

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