electricity from marshy plants in villages
Bio-Energy empowers a village in Bihar
In 2006, V K Gupta set up the Saran Renewable Energy (SRE), a small family-owned firm which has built three biomass gasification plants in the Saran district of Bihar
These power plants gasify biomass purchased from local farmers to generate electricity, which is then sold to local households, farmers, and businessmen. Garkha, a densely populated village, was plagued by unreliable supply of electricity forcing people to opt for high-cost and polluting diesel generators. The gasifiers have now replaced these generators and supply power to nearly 1000 businesses and households, a school, and two medical clinics.
SRE’s efforts were rewarded as the company was awarded the prestigious Ashden Award in 2009 for providing reliable electricity to small businesses from a biomass gasifier and for enabling farmers to earn reliable income for producing the biomass.
The gasifier installed at Garkha by SRE is designed to supply 128 kW electricity at 240 V, a high voltage for a gasifier. Two 3-kV transmission lines, each 1.25 km, connect them to the customers. The plant is run for 10 hours every day using 35% of the total capacity. The gasifier used by SRE is down-draught-open-top gasifier made by Netpro under license from the IISc (Indian Institute of Sciences), Bengaluru.Gas engines are used to generate electricity.
Mr Gupta found a location in Saran district where raw material, dhaincha was regularly available near the plant site. There were vast tracts of the low-lying land between the rivers Ganga and Gandak which are water-logged making it unsuitable for cultivating most crops. But dhaincha thrives in such a soil. It is low on maintenance and has a short cropping cycle of six to eight months. The gasifier at SRE uses about 70% dhaincha as raw material and the rest is from a variety of other sources like corn cobs, wood, and other local plants similar to dhaincha
To maintain an uninterrupted supply of this marshy crop, SRE gave a beneficial offer to the farmers to grow dhaincha: free seeds and some incentive. For the farmers, it was a win-win situation as they could use their otherwise uncultivated land and also earn a secure earning from it. Nearly five tonnes ofdhaincha can be grown on one hectare yearly. This translates to 7,500–10,000 per hectare from a plot of land that was otherwise lying waste. Moreover, growing this crop was easy as it does not require any fertilizer or special care. SRE introduced dhaincha carefully and did not mix it with other food crops.Dhaincha not only earns from an otherwise water-logged land that was uncultivated, but also has nitrogen-fixing property.
This is useful for the soil and may reduce the need for fertilizers and improve the environment.
Use of wastelands for biomass production is one of SRE’s key innovations that will help in sustainable development and also sustain the power plants in the long run. SRE is using low-lying lands, which are waterlogged due to excess rain/river water for most part of the year, and hence no crops or trees can be grown in these lands. There are other lands that are waterlogged in monsoon months and hence onlyone crop can be grown in the winter season.
These wastelands have to be tilled and made ready for growing biomass. Once the land is prepared for the plantations, there are no inputs required apart from seeds so it is an investment- and risk-free crop. SRE guarantees purchase of biomass. SRE’s model delivers sustainable social and economic benefits to the rural poor, enabling them to increase their incomes, gain access to energy, and improve their quality of life. It has devised innovative methods to solve the two major problems of energy crisis and excess water.
The approach is an integrated one wherein SRE uses techniques to manage excess water and use waterlogged wastelands. Energy plantations are done during periods of excess water and using the biomass grown to run biomass power plant for producing electricity to be used for irrigation and development of agriculture and micro industries.
Source: emPOWERing rural India the RE way: inspiring success stories. New Delhi: Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, 2012