Punjab: A fossil fuel-free energy plan using available renewable resources

What is being presented is a long-term coherent waste-to-energy plan, which would result in economic development, control pollution, provide 24X7 electricity, liquid fuels, and generate employment and business opportunities in Punjab, based on the utilisation of surplus crop residue (CR), a renewable resource, and free Punjab from dependence on coal

The people of Punjab need such a policy to generate opportunities for work and employment, and to progress forward socially, technologically, and on the economic front. The implementation of such an energy plan would achieve this.

The primary benefits which would accrue from a policy like this are
  • It takes care of the stubble burning problem
  • Makes Punjab independent of coal for electricity
  • Meets liquid fuel requirements in terms of diesel, ethanol/methanol, or gasoline
  • Boosts cold storage capacities by utilising the thermal energy from the process
The result
  • Villages, towns, and cities get a stable supply of electricity 24X7. The order is deliberate, because villages are the starting point.
  • The availability would benefit all areas — agricultural, domestic, commercial, industrial, and digital infrastructure.

The plan is usable anywhere else in India, or the world, wherever crop residues are available. It’s application would ensure that dependence on coal-based plants can be drastically cut down, if not eliminated altogether, thereby giving a fillip to climate action plans.

To arrive at estimations of what is possible, an average conversion figure for one tonne of biomass is being used.

0.5 MW Electricity (can range between 0.4 to 0.8 MW)
500 litres bio-diesel (can be 400 to 700 litres)
Production can be higher if old tyres and waste plastic are added to the matrix.
288 litres bio-ethanol (from an ICAR Study of 2018)
0.647 MW Thermal Energy

The total installed capacity of Thermal Power Plants (TPP’s) in Punjab as of March 2021 is 5,680 MW (5.68 GW).

Studies have been sponsored by government’s on handling of waste, however as of today there seems to be no long-term strategy for using crop residue, waste rubber from tyres, plastics or garbage for generation of electricity and production of other commercially usable products. There are isolated units using various kinds of technologies, which have not been very successful for many reasons, technological, financial, and political. (A company in the United States has used material from waste tyres to construct houses, a technology which can be used to advantage in rural areas).

The best technologies to process biomass involve gasification. In general such plants can generate electricity, produce gaseous or liquid fuels, and provide waste heat for running cold storages. Set up in closed structures, their exhaust gases are scrubbed, so that any emission would meet clean air standards.

For our purpose Only two main crops are being considered, paddy and wheat. The estimated Crop Residue (CR) of Paddy is 22.9 million tonnes, and Wheat, 23.1 million tonnes. Available for processing is the surplus CR which is burnt, 95% of paddy straw (21.76 mt) and 23% of wheat straw (5.31 mt). The total being 27.07 million tonnes. (Reference)

Going by an average figure of 0.5 MW electricity generated, and 500 litres of liquid fuel per tonne of biomass we get from 27.07 million tonnes:

Electricity: 13,536 GW [installed capacity of TPP’s is 5.68 GW].
Liquid fuel (bio-diesel) 13.5365 billion litres
If 50% of the plants are configured to produce bio-ethanol, then going by the ICAR figures we get 3.89808 billion litres of bio-ethanol.

From the other 50% we get 6.7685 billion litres of bio-diesel (Punjab’s annual consumption is 3.965 billion litres).

17,517 GW of thermal energy would be generated during the process. Secondary waste heat is available for producing electricity using ORC generators, and for operation of cold storages.

In short TPP’s using coal can be made redundant if biomass based plants are used. Punjab can be self-sufficient in terms of electricity and liquid fuel, plus having waste heat for cold storages, which will prevent spoilage of horticultural produce. All in all it benefits farmers and all sections of society.

To make the whole exercise effective, a chain of small-scale plants need to be set up starting at the village level with micro-grids to make distribution effective, and provide an uninterrupted supply of electricity 24X7 to users. This will cut down on distribution costs, and keep plant investment low. The idea is to integrate collection areas and the generation plants to avoid transmission over distances. The other purpose is to keep large corporates out of this plan.

For the purpose of costing, a reference is being made to a proposed Renewable CHP project in Greece using gasification technology which will use 7,956 tonnes of biomass per year, to produce 6,630 MWh of electricity and 8,580 MWh of thermal energy, which will cost € 4.3 m (36 crores). This figure can be used as reference point for planning, and may vary somewhat depending on the technology chosen.

Funding required to establish these plants, (whose ownership should be with groups of farmers and groups of residents of villages or towns), can be made available from international funding sources.

The cost of not moving to using biomass for energy is very high. The economic cost of exposure to air pollution from crop residue burning stands at $ 30 billion or over Rs 2 lakh crores annually for the states of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi.

Today, the lack of electricity affects — agricultural operations, homes, the internet, mobile communications, banking, online billing payments, traffic lights, street lighting, offices, shops, petrol pumps, clinics, hospitals, schools, colleges, universities, water supplies, industrial activities, and a whole range of ancillary and connected activities. The availability of electricity around the clock will boost all activities and productivity.

We haven’t taken into account the amount of garbage generated in Punjab (MSW), 51,600 tonnes. The conversion figure would be around the same. The benefits: electricity (20,640 MW) + heat (26,708 MW) + zero landfills. (Installed capacity of Thermal Power Plants (TPP’s) is 5,680 MW (5.68 GW).

The conglomeration of Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula, accounts for approximately 680 TPD of solid waste, 380 TPD was generated by Chandigarh, 150 TPD each by Mohali and Panchkula. This can be converted to RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel) at source, which can then be transported to a gasification plant.

What has not been touched upon here are the commercial products which can be made from paddy and wheat straw — insulation panels, partitions, engineered wood (light furniture for schools and homes), packaging material, rice paper, etc.

Funding requirements for setting up such plants can be met by international funding sources.

A picture of what’s possible in some selected States, which would be of immense benefit to them. Generation/distribution would be through microgrids in the rural areas.

West Bengal — 5 million tonnes surplus Crop Residue:
Electricity: 2,500 GW
Bio-diesel: 2.5 billion litres, or Bio-ethanol: 1.44 billion litres

Bihar — 5.1 million tonnes surplus Crop Residue:
Electricity: 2,040 GW
Bio-diesel: 2.04 billion litres or Bio-ethanol: 1.4688 billion litres

Maharashtra — 15 million tonnes surplus Crop Residue
Electricity: 7,500 GW 
Bio-diesel: 7.5 billion litres, or Bio-ethanol: 4.3 billion litres

Goa — 0.15 million tonnes surplus Crop Residue:
Electricity: 75 GW
Bio-diesel: 75 million litres, or Bio-ethanol: 43.2 million litres