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Crop residues power Indian industry

Chopping crop waste in the field (© Martin Wright/Ashden Awards)
Chopping crop waste in the field
© Martin Wright/Ashden Awards

For decades, the industries of Gujarat in India have been powered by lignite and coal, helping the state contribute more than 15 per cent of India's industrial output. But since 2009, a cleaner fuel has become available, which is not only enabling those same industries to reduce their carbon footprint but is also addressing some of the state's agricultural woes.

Sold under the name 'Pellexo Green', and manufactured by Abellon Clean Energy Limited, biomass fuel pellets made from crop residues and sawdust are now powering the turbines of 14 industrial customers in and around the city of Ahmedabad. Already, over 8,000 farmers have signed long term agreements with Abellon to supply their crop residues to the company's two pellet-making plants, established in 2009 and 2010.

By February 2011, over 88,000 tonnes of pellets had been produced, and while slightly more expensive than the fuel they replace, customers are willing to pay the extra cost. The small, dense pellets are easier to handle than coal, can be stored cleanly and fed straight into furnaces with no crushing required, avoiding respiratory problems for the workers. "The pellets have a high calorific value; they are ready-to-use and better for workers' health," says Joshy Vargesse of Anil Products. "They don't retain moisture and burn more cleanly and efficiently."

Rupees from residues

The farmers are equally happy about the extra income they are now earning. "Earlier we would simply burn the crop residue in the fields, but now we earn extra by selling it to Abellon. We really find it useful," says Meghrajbhai Rana. Farmers in the area have previously been forced to burn the dry matter residues which, they report, take a long time to decompose and are therefore not suitable to be used to boost soil fertility.

Winnowing cumin to separate seeds from the waste which will be used to make biomass pellets (© Martin Wright/Ashden Awards)
Winnowing cumin to separate seeds from the waste which will be used to make biomass pellets
© Martin Wright/Ashden Awards

Farmers gather the raw material, which includes cotton and mustard stalks, cumin waste, castor bean husks and sugar cane bagasse, and take it to a collection centre from where it is transported to the pelleting plants. The company pays farmers INR 500 (US$11) per tonne for the raw material and sells pellets at around INR 4,100 (US$90) per tonne to its industrial customers.

Advice and assistance too

Abellon's interaction with the farmers is not confined to buying their crop residues. The company has also created an NGO, Poornakumbha, which provides seedlings and agricultural advice and training to its farmer suppliers. In particular, it seeks to help farmers cope with problems of rising soil salinity and increasingly erratic rainfall, through improved soil management, intercropping and agroforestry. Rising salinity in Gujarat's soils has been attributed to excessive exploitation of groundwater for irrigation, leading to a significant fall in the water table, while erratic rainfall is seen as a result of climate change.

Poornakumbha advisers have received training from Anand Agricultural University, and university staff have also been made available to talk directly to farmers, through a telephone advisory service. Specific advice covers planting of bamboo and Moringa oleifera, both of which are drought and salt resistant, biological pest control, and intercropping of wheat and cotton.

Ashden Award winners

Biomass pellets save 1.7 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of fuel used (© Abellon CleanEnergy)
Biomass pellets save 1.7 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of fuel used
© Abellon CleanEnergy

In June 2011, Abellon received an Ashden Award for Sustainability in recognition of its sustainable model for clean energy in India. A Clean Development Mechanism assessment of greenhouse gas emissions, part of the evidence gathered in competing for the award, found that compared to fossil fuels, the biomass pellets saved 1.7 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of fuel used. Thus the 65,000 tonnes of pellets sold in 2010 cut greenhouse gas emissions by 110,000 tonnes.

Pankaj Patel, president of Abellon, is clearly proud of his company's achievements. "We believe that bio-energy has the potential to address the global issues of CO2 emissions. It is sustainable and has many socio-economic benefits as well," he says. "And since we are using farm-waste and city waste, it means we don't compete with food, fodder and fibre." Of the two pellet plants currently in operation, one uses mainly crop residues while the other uses 80 per cent sawmill waste and 20 per cent crop waste.

According to Mr. Patel, Abellon plans to set up two more plants in order to have sufficient capacity to meet anticipated demand. In 2010 the company had sales amounting US$3.2 million and it now aims to treble that figure over the next five years, beyond that looking to international expansion.

Written by: Athar Parvaiz

Date published: November 2011

 

Have your say

We have established to crop wastage plant In kota ( Rajasth... (posted by: sandeep)

Chopping & mixing the crop residue in soil is a standard pra... (posted by: Abellon CleanEnergy Limited)

Instead of training Poornakhumba advisers to train farmers, ... (posted by: Raghavendra Rao)

I would think that chopping and composting the residue, till... (posted by: Will Colston)

 

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