Despite enormous benefits, India has hardly tapped about 2 per cent of its Waste to Energy (WTE) potential.
According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) Annual Report 2009-10, there is a potential for generation of over 2,600 MW of power from municipal and urban wastes and about 1,300 MW of energy from solid and liquid wastes generated by various industries in India. Likewise, according to the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency Limited (IREDA), with an estimated production of about 460 million tonnes (mt) of agricultural waste every year, biomass is capable of supplementing coal to the tune of about 260 mt, resulting in savings of about Rs 250 billion, every year.
MNRE estimates that the amount of waste generated in India will increase at a per capita rate of around 1-1.33 per cent annually. This would have tremendous impact on the economic costs and on the environment. On the other hand, WTE conversion, besides generating substantial energy to mitigate the growing energy deficit in the country, will ensure treatment of wastes before their disposal, minimise the quantity of waste to be disposed, leading to less demand for landfill sites and saving on the cost of waste treatment and its transportation to landfill sites.
This will also reduce environmental pollution, as most wastes now find their way into land and water bodies without proper treatment. Despite such enormous benefits, India has hardly tapped about 2 per cent of its WTE potential.
With increasing awareness, WTE is slowly garnering support from several quarters including Central/State governments, industry/corporates and NGOs. The Indian government has also introduced fiscal incentives and tax holidays for companies investing in this sector and has opened the sector to 100 per cent foreign direct investment. In addition, MNRE, which has developed a National Master Plan for Development of WTE in India, is taking several measures like assessing various conversion technologies, providing financial assistance for research studies and setting up WTE projects under various schemes. According to MNRE 2013-14 annual report, 13 projects with an aggregate capacity of 27.654 MW based on municipal and industrial waste have been completed during the year and 12 projects with a total capacity of 20 MW are under installation. Five projects of about 2.30 MW based on mix of urban and agricultural waste are in progress. No doubt, the WTE industry is expanding, but it is yet to take off in a big way in the country due to several barriers and challenges.
Evidently the scope for power generation from waste is immense and so are the opportunities for various private players like consultants, technology providers, execution agencies, developers and others who provide support services. The biomass sector alone has great potential reveals Lt Col Monish Ahuja, Managing Director, Bermaco Energy Ltd: ´The biomass power generation industry in India attracts investments of over Rs 600 crore every year, generating more than 5,000 million units of electricity and yearly employment of over 10 million man-days in rural areas. The current availability of biomass in India is estimated at about 500 million metric tonnes per year´. Bermaco has developed the 12 MW biomass-based power project, Punjab Biomass Pvt Ltd, in Patiala district, a first-of-its-kind in the world to be successfully operating on 100 per cent rice straw as fuel. Further, success in municipal solid waste management could lead to opportunities in other wastes in the future like industrial waste, biomedical and hazardous waste. Since WTE is gaining momentum all over the world, it can open up doors to international business for Indian companies, especially in the neighboring Asian countries.
´The potential is very high. But the investor has to find out an efficient technology provider with proven track record,´ warns Dr A Saji Das, Managing Director, Biotech Renewable Energy Pvt Ltd, which offers consultancy services in designing and setting up power plants out of biodegradable solid and liquid wastes.
The WTE sector should however not be totally left to private players opines Dr Rakesh Kumar, Chief Scientist and Head of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Mumbai and Executive Board member of Waste to Energy Research and Technology Council India (WTERT). ´The government should not totally depend on the private sector and should be willing to contribute to the capital cost. Otherwise, some vendors who would want to maximise their profits may compromise on quality, leading to all kinds of trouble and then go absconding. Often, financial institutions which provide loans for such projects land up in trouble. Hence such projects should be based on a PPP (Public Private Partnership) model,´ he says. However, Dr. Kumar adds that the PPP concept will work only for larger projects of 500-1000 tonnes as smaller projects will not be viable for private players.
More so, since the cost of WTE projects is higher than other renewable sources due to high capital, replacement and maintenance costs. Further the feedstock delivered has to be often segregated and processed to make it suitable-which is again expensive. ´Setting up of WTE projects is certainly costlier than other renewable and conventional sources, as the waste has to be properly segregated, dried for reduction of moisture, and size. Inconsistency in the receipt of MSW (municipal solid waste) throughout the year and the need to install pollution control equipment also add up to the costs,´ explains Lt Col Suresh Rege, Executive Director, Mailhem Ikos Environment Pvt Ltd. Mailhem specializes in decentralized plants and has set up more than 20 plants. Another 28 are in the construction/commissioning stage.
Dr Das however remarks that the cost of the project can be reduced if it is designed properly, while providing an idea about the costs involved. ´Capital cost is around Rs 30 lakh per metric tonne and RoI (Return on Investment) period is less than three years. The cost of setting up WTE projects can be less, if they are properly designed,´ says Das.
A national policy about handling waste of all types , a performance based viability gap funding, regulatory support with power tariffs that assure a fixed return on investments, etc., will go a long way in attracting the private sector to this space.
Identifying the right technology for conversion of solid waste to energy has been a major stumbling block, aver industry experts. Several technologies like Plasma Arc, Pyrolysis, Incineration, Refuse Derived Fuel and Anaerobic Digestion are available in India. However, most of these technologies have been imported and their suitability to Indian waste and the environment is yet to be adjudged. Issues like non-segregation, high moisture content and large percentage of inerts in Indian waste as compared to the West raises doubts about the effectiveness of these technologies. Reportedly, improper choice of technology has been a major reason behind the closure of some plants set up in India by the private sector.
´There were several reasons behind the plants that failed, but the main reason was their inability to understand the waste composition. The vendors, who have not undertaken any project in India, bring in technologies from abroad which are not really compatible to our conditions. These vendors should first undertake small pilot projects of 5-10 tonnes so that they have their own learning curve,´ states Dr Kumar. Though technology is not a major issue for biomass WTE projects, they too have their own bottlenecks. Ahuja lists out some of them: ´Non-uniform norms for determination of tariff for procurement of power from biomass-based power plants across various States, bureau¡cratic and lengthy procedures that make it difficult to avail of incentives like capital subsidy, land for dedicated energy plantation, reluctance on the part of financial institutions to provide debt financing for new projects, are some of the barriers to successful installation and operation of biomass waste to energy projects.´
Evidently, the WTE sector involving two industries-waste disposal and energy production-needs several reforms to accelerate its pace of development. Mass awareness programmes, supportive legislations and procedures and higher tariff & tax benefits are some of the reforms recommended by industry professionals. ´Creating awareness on waste segregation at source, supplying required quantity of waste at plant site free of cost, providing land on long lease at Rs 1 per sq. meter per year by ULBs, Viability Gap Funding, loans from banks/financial institutions at concessional rate, incentivised tariff rate for electricity, exemption from VAT, excise and custom duties are the other reforms required to promote WTE projects,´ says Rege. Seconds Dr Das: ´Investor-friendly policies, quick decisions by government authorities, hassle-free processing, awareness programmes to popularise bio-energy among the public and support of various stakeholders for quick delivery of services will definitely put the WTE projects on fast track.´ In addition, conducting research to identify appropriate technologies for WTE conversion, setting up of pilot projects to demonstrate feasibility and viability are the other measures suggested.
WTE is no doubt the way forward, more so since it serves the dual purpose of energy production and waste disposal and consequent reduction in pollution. But the road ahead is no doubt long and laborious for all the stakeholders.
Project: Bio-waste electricity generation plant
Location: Pathanapuram Gram Panchayat, Kollam District, Kerala Implementing & operating Agency: Biotech Renewable Energy Pvt Ltd, Kerala Unique feature: First plant installed in Kerala under this category.
Background: The town area of this Panchayat with markets, hospitals, and other trade centres, produced large quantities of wastes from fish, vegetables, meat etc. Lack of proper waste treatment system created several health and environmental problems for the villagers. The Gram Panchayat committee then decided to implement a waste treatment system.
After conducting an awareness programme about the hygienic disposal of waste and the possibility of generating electricity from the waste, Biotech conducted a feasibility study and submitted a concept proposal and then a detailed project report, after which the Panchayat awarded the contract and handed over the site.
Commissioning of the plant: After the installation, Biotech technical experts activated the plant using Biotech culture and cow dung as an initial feed. Trial runs were conducted for seven days. Three unemployed youths from the Pathanapuram Panchayat were trained to work as operators. During the seven years of operation, the treatment capacity of the plant had increased three times with the introduction of additional facilities, from 250 kg per day to 1,000 kg per day.
Biotech conducted an awareness program for the merchants of the market and educated them about the systematic collection and disposal of the waste generated. The plant installed in the market is functioning regularly. The generated electricity from the plant is being used for lighting the lamps installed in the market area and also for the operation of the electrical equipment in the plant.
Technical Details of PlantTreatment capacity: 1,000 kg
Design of the plant: Floating Dome Model
Specialty of the plant: Slurry loop system with anaerobic pre-digester
Capacity of the generator: 5 KW
No. of lights installed: 100 Nos. (11 Watt CFL).
Financial Viability of the Scheme
Total project cost: Rs 26,00,000
Biogas generation: 50 to 60 Cum per day
Generation of Electricity: 90 kWh
Cost of electricity per unit: Rs 6
Income in the form of electricity: Rs 540 per day
Liquid fertilizer generation: 400 to 500 litres per day
Cost of fertilizer per litre: Rs. 5
Total cost of fertilizer: Rs 2,500 per day
Total income in the form of electricity and manure: Rs 2,940
Annual income from the plant: Rs 10,73,000 per year.
Benefits from the Scheme
Hygienic surroundings as the bio-degradable waste is being treated on the same day it is generated and reduction of the electricity bill. Every day 60 cum biogas is being captured from organic waste, controlling large quantity of methane emission.
Replicability of the Scheme
More than 65 Gram Panchayats came forward inviting Biotech for conducting feasibility study and installation of the plant. Out of this 52 projects have been completed and 8 projects are nearing completion.
- Janaki Krishnamoorthi