Is there a solution to Delhi's pollution problem? As toxic smog engulfs the capital, Monish Ahuja, the promoter of biomass fuel management company Punjab Renewable Energy Systems that has specialised in aggregation and storage of rice straw for the last six years, thinks so. The direct fallout of large scale stubble burning in farms of Punjab and Haryana, the smog can be controlled if the entire straw that gets burned can be used as feed stock for generating power, Ahuja says.
In a note tagged to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, government think tank Niti Aayog and others, Ahuja says that a 100 per cent rice straw based power plant operational in Ludhiana, Punjab, should be the template for replication by others as it utilises 12,000 MT of rice straw in a controlled environment to produce power. According to Ahuja, 2000 MW of power can be produced if 20 million MT of paddy straw estimated to be burned in open fields this season can be utilised completely. He called for government incentives to encourage farmer producer organisations, local bodies and other companies to create the market ecosystem to collect, store, transport and create value for the paddy straw.
The recommendations by Ahuja are:
- Launch a biomass mission akin to solar and wind mission and invite global tenders to take up the task of collection and conversion of paddy straw into energy
- National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) should purchase the power from producers and sell it to affected states and consumers
- Arrangements should be made for short term (45 day) working capital requirement to source paddy straw during the short window available while conversion of biomass into power, ethanol, bio-CNG and bio-fertilizer can happen over the year
- NTPC to set up 100 per cent rice straw based biomass power producing companies either independently or through public private partnerships
- Bring activity under list of priority lending sectors
- Policy announcement to make 10 per cent mixing of ethanol generated from such biomass to generate demand
- Construction of briquetting units to begin immediately to be ready to tackle the pollution problem of the next season
- Open up export of rice straw made briquettes and pellets, where there is demand for biomass based power and heating system energy
- Disbursal of funds to the scheme for developing technologies and processes for utilization of rice straw announced by the Technology Development Board of the Ministry of Science and Technology in 2017. Also rice straw supply chain management and process innovation to be considered as technology innovation and enhancement and such projects to be funded by the government
Ahuja's suggestions were in response to news that the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister has held a high level meeting on November 3 through video conferencing with Punjab, Haryana and Delhi to tackle air pollution. The meeting decided that the Cabinet Secretary will monitor the situation with these states on a daily basis.
While monitoring is needed, the solution can only come through long term planning, and here lies the importance of exploring the feasibility of suggestions like those made by Ahuja.