Bio… whaaa? Fuels?

  Dr Rahul Jain, Yogendra Anand |     April 23, 2024
Bio… whaaa? Fuels

Rahul: Hey Anu! You look disgusted. Not knowing what to do about these monumental, stinking garbage bins?

Anu: Yeah, dude! Why don’t people deliberate upon solution-seeking rather than piling their sins right outside their homes!? Household waste has a lot of organic waste and am sure there are ways of dealing with it!

Rahul: Of course, there are. What are the two main types of waste you know?...

Anu: Well? There’s organic and inorganic. Food scraps and garden waste is organic. Inorganic waste includes things that I can’t eat, like plastic, metal, and electronics. Just look at the filth around us and you’ll know.

Rahul: But are you aware of some more types of organic waste?

Anu: Umm… There’s animal waste, farm leftover, sugarcane processing waste and more.

Rahul: Pretty good, girl! And did you know that these wastes can be turned into something cool?

Anu: Really? Like what?...

Rahul: They can be converted into biofuels, which are like eco-friendly fuels. They can replace the regular fuels people use for cars and stuff. They are greener because they cause less pollution when burnt. Also, producing them solves our country’s waste-management problem.

Anu: That sounds like a magic fuel!

Rahul: Haha! Let me unravel further. Take agricultural waste, for example. Instead of burning it to clear farm fields and polluting the air unforgivingly, we can use it to make biofuels. Even in cities, if we turn these big piles of household waste into biofuel, we can get rid of our smelly landfills easily. And then we might even have a clean place to chit-chat!

Anu: That’s relieving! I’d no idea about baayoofiuuelllzzz… How are they manufactured?

Rahul: Well, different kinds of biofuels are produced differently. Check out these flashcards from Gobar Times! Look at any photograph here and read info about it in a pop-up bubble. You better download and read this magazine every month to gather some comprehensive gyan on environmental issues.

Anu: Your flashcards are really awesome, Rahul! But can you tell how biogas is different from Compressed Biogas (CBG)?

Rahul: Well, biogas is made through ‘anaerobic digestion.’ This means that tiny living things, which you can’t see without a microscope, break down organic waste without using oxygen. The gas produced as a result contains mostly methane, some carbon dioxide, and a bit of other stuff. Have you ever seen any plants in villages? They use cow dung to make biogas, which is usually used for cooking.

Anu: Oh yeah, I remember seeing one during my school trip to rural places. But what about CBG?

Rahul: CBG is like a purified and modern biogas. Scientists use technology to filter out the extra gases from biogas, leaving behind only methane. That’s what we call CBG and it can power vehicles that run on CNG. CNG means Compressed Natural Gas.

Anu: Cee bee gee… cee… enn… gee…! Lol! Lots of cee gees… So, tell me something: won’t there be any issue if we put biogas into a vehicle that otherwise runs on natural gas? Will its system not malfunction?

Rahul: Nope, Anu! Since CNG and CBG are both methane, no changes are needed.

Anu: Amazing! So, a CNG-based autorickshaw… those yellow-green ones in Delhi can run on both CNG and CBG fuel?

Rahul: That’s right!

Anu: Ah! So, why is CBG not a craze till now?

Rahul: Well, CBG is gradually gaining popularity. Around 80 CBG plants are working in India, turning various kinds of wastes into gas.

Anu: That’s seems like a small number for a country like ours. Is setting up biofuel plants a big task? What’s the issue? Is the government doing anything about it?

Rahul: Definitely! In 2018, the Indian government introduced the National Biofuel Policy to provide incentives and support to biofuel plants. Additionally, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas initiated a scheme called SATAT, which stands for Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation. Its goal was to set up 5,000 CBG projects across India by 2023–24.

Anu: But we’re already completed the first quarter of 2024 with barely 80 plants on ground…

Rahul: Yup. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 and limited awareness about SATAT among investors, we had to postpone the target of 5,000 projects to 2030.

Anu: Fine… Can you show me around any such plant? Am already curious now.

Rahul: Sure! India’s biggest CBG plant is installed in Punjab, the state popular as the food bowl of our country, because it produces ample amount of wheat and rice. However, the crop waste remaining in its fields is typically burnt, causing air pollution, especially noticeable in Delhi NCR during winters.

Anu: Awh!... I remember seeing that astonishing haze spreading all over Delhi’s skyline during my trip last year. Indeed, it is our national pollution capital!

Rahul: So, to address that menace, biofuels come into play. The biofuel plant in Punjab that am referring to was built by a German company and started its operations in October 2022. The plant collects crop waste from farms and stores it in large bundles on-site. Then it processes 300 tons of crop waste daily—equivalent to 3,00,000 kg—and produces CBG.

Anu: That’s a huge number! And how much CBG does it produce?

Rahul: It generates about 33 tons of CBG daily. And what’s fascinating is that it also releases a by-product called Fermented Organic Manure (FOM).

Anu: OMG! Let me process so many numbers first!... So, simply put, this plant takes in 300 tons of crop waste and gives out 33 tons of CBG every single day... Wow! That feels like sweeping away crop waste from the fields entirely!

Rahul: Not only that, the CBG produced is also sold to the nearby fueling stations as an eco-friendly fuel for cars. This is how biofuels transform waste into energy!

Anu: Ahaaa! And, what’s FOM that you mentioned?

Rahul: FOM is an organic fertilizer that improves soil quality. The FOM produced at this plant is returned to the farmers, who use it to enhance their crop yields.

Anu: Oh, that’s incredible! Biofuels are a bonanza! In this plant, first, waste goes from the farms to the plant and then fertilizer comes out from the plant to the farms. And CBG, of course, comes out from the plant and but goes further ahead to the fueling stations.

Rahul: You nailed it!

Anu: Thanks a lot, Rahul! This conversation is literally gobar gyan for me and I shall pledge not to miss a single edition of Gobar Times!

Rahul: Absolutely! Gobar Times is the best way to learn about every environmental issue in a fun-filled way. Subscribe it through the Young Environmentalist website!

About the Author

Deputy Programme Manager, Renewable Energy Unit, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi

Illustrator, Art & Design, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi

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