In what could turn out to be a major breakthrough for India in tackling the issue of pollution caused by stubble burning in the states of Punjab and Haryana, India and Sweden have launched a pilot project in Mohali, Punjab that will convert paddy stubble into green coal. In the month of January this year, National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute (NABI), in Mohali, had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Swedish firm Bioendev AB to set up the pilot project. The project is a joint collaboration between the Government of India and the Swedish firm.
The newly launched plant will use torrefaction, that is, a thermal process to convert agricultural waste into biocoal. The biocoal manufactured out of agri-waste will release 20 times lesser emissions than conventional coal. As per Bioendev, India wastes energy from 35 million tons paddy on an annual basis. However, it can be converted into biocoal and replace 21 million tons of fossil coal every year. This would end up a huge reduction of 48 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, or equivalent to Green House Gas emissions released from 10.2 million Indian cars.
This pilot project which has been jointly launched by PM Modi and Swedish King, Carl XVI Gustaf comes as a matter of relief for India when it comes to solving the issue of stubble burning which is a major cause of pollution and deterioration of air quality in the National Capital and nearby areas. Now, with access to technology for converting agri-waste into biocoal, there will be reduction in stubble burning, that will in turn, improve air quality. It will also be beneficial for the farming community as a new market will be created for agri-waste, which will in itself become a raw material for production of biocoal and reduced stubble burning will also improve soil quality.
Apart from converting stubble into biocoal, the Scandinavian country also offers transformation of paddy stubble into useful alternatives such as like table mats, decorative pieces, lamp shades. In fact, Swedish firm Ikea, world’s largest furniture retailer has been collecting paddy stubble from farmers in Punjab and working on it to convert the agri-waste into attractive home decor. Swedish Ambassador Klas Molin said that Ikea has been working with Punjab for past two years on this project.
India’s engagement with Sweden is certainly in the right direction. Apart from converting stubble into biocoal, India’s engagement with Sweden can help it in tackling the issue of unmanageable landfills and lack of efficacious waste management technology. Sweden is brilliant with its Waste to Energy plants, and this is why the Scandinavian country sends less than even one per cent of its waste to landfills. Around 49 per cent waste generated in Sweden is recycled, while another 50 per cent of the total waste generated is incinerated in power plants. These power plants transform heat into steam that spins turbines to generate electricity, much like conventional sources of electricity such as thermal power plants. Sweden, therefore, excels at “Waste to Energy” power plants that actually utilise the energy component of waste to the optimum level.
In view of Sweden’s “Waste to Energy” capabilities, Indo-Swedish partnership in this sector is critical to India’s waste management system. A couple of years ago, East Delhi’s Ghazipur landfill had come into limelight after 50 tonnes of garbage came crashing down from the 80-feet high waste mountain at the landfill, killing two people. The tragic incident exposed incompetent waste management and disposal, an issue that has been further aggravated by expansion of urban population over the years with little regard for the capacity or lifespan of the landfills that serve as dumping yards for urban settlements. At a time when India is grappling on how to solve the issue of waste disposal, engagement with Sweden in this sector could breath life into India’s “Waste to Energy” plants helping India to not only get rid of the excess waste that it has been generating, but also using it for generation of clean energy.