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In an interaction with Mamta Maity,, Dr. A R Shukla, President, Indian Biogas Association said “The second category is the mid-sized segment, ranging a capacity of 3-250 KW. KW is for the capacity as power output (which could be thermal or electric). Almost 300 odd such plants are installed with a cumulative installed capacity of 6MW electric equivalent.”

What are the key challenges faced by the Biogas Industry?

Broadly key challenges can be categorized into three parts technical, economical, and policy barrier

1. Technical Challenges:

  • One of the primary challenges is the supply chain, which includes proper waste segregation, garbage collection, and waste allocation and storage, all of which make it difficult to transport and use biogas. Inadequate waste transportation, poor collection, improper segregation, and a shortage of vehicles raise the risk of supply chain interruption and create a barrier to using waste in biogas generation.
  • Infrastructural challenges, such as feedstock availability, are also a concern.
  • Biogas plant production is determined by operator experience, skilled personnel, and well-trained personnel. The adoption of biogas technologies is hampered by a scarcity of specialized enterprises, qualified specialists, construction companies, and technologists who specialize in planning, constructing, and using agricultural biogas systems. In India, a lack of training and education for householders—particularly women—is a significant obstacle to digester maintenance, feedstock appropriateness, and digestate’s potential environmental and livelihood advantages.
  • Barriers to biogas plant commercialization include the necessity for frequent repairs and a lack of attention paid to upkeep.
2. Economic / Financial barriers
  • The choice of energy source is heavily influenced by economic concerns. Biogas systems are expensive to set up. This covers the cost of building a biogas plant, purchasing equipment, hiring technical staff, and implementing technology, among other things. The high cost of managing and maintaining biogas facilities has a negative impact on biogas adoption. Though it has improved in recent years, there is still a long way to go.
3. Policy barrier
  • The government’s decision to eliminate subsidies/CFA for all types of biogas facilities (small, medium, and large). The decision will have an impact on over 50 million farmers seeking energy security and natural farming, as well as the Government’s 5000 plant set-up target under the SATAT Scheme, and will undermine India’s dream of becoming self-sufficient in fossil fuels. If the Indian biogas industry receives the right kind of support, it can help the government reduce its INR 1.1 lakh crore imports of fossil fuels, which is impossible to achieve without the government’s support.
  • Lack of investment in research and development (R&D) from the government is a major impediment. Due to low funding, there are issues with inadequate R&D and a shortage of appropriately competent researchers. More funding should be committed to R&D to improve technological innovation. Institutional R&D networking and coordinated efforts in solving R&D problems should be established to improve biogas processes, lower the cost of biogas technologies and make them affordable for poorer households to invest in, and develop more training, consultation, and educational programs for biogas adopters. Furthermore, most engineering and technical courses at universities and colleges in India do not cover energy technologies and their implementation in depth.

 What are the demands of the industry from the Government (budget expectations and recommendations)?

The Indian Biogas Association in its budget recommendations has suggested the government set up a ‘Biogas Fertiliser Fund’ with an initial provision of Rs 1.4 lakh crore for five years, as it has the potential to benefit five crore farmers and to reduce fossil fuel import bill.

For materializing the envisaged target of 5,000 plants under the SATAT (Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation) scheme, creating a ‘Biogas-Fertilizer Fund’ with an initial provision/corpus of Rs 1.4 lakh crore for the first five years period

The IBA has also suggested defining a blending quota for statutory mixing of biomethane (CBG) in the city gas distribution network and natural gas pipeline. A tentative blending quota of 5 percent for the first five years, followed by progressively increasing it up to 10 percent at the end of 10 years.

IBA has also requested that the GST council recently notified the escalation of the GST slab from 5 percent to 12 percent for biogas plant-related equipment and their parts. Instead, to push the growth of this industry, which is indispensable for India’s climate goals, a uniform concessional rate of zero percent uniform GST rate across the value chain of the industry needs to be implemented.

What is the overall capacity of Biogas production in the country and what is the expected capacity in the next 3 years?

The present installation base, considering small-scale plants which range between the capacity of 1-25 m3 of biogas/day, stands at a cumulative installation of around 5 million as reported in 2019 end by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. The total estimated potential of these small-scale plants is around 12 million.

The second category is the mid-sized segment, ranging a capacity of 3-250 KW. KW is for the capacity as power output (which could be thermal or electric). Almost 300 odd such plants are installed with a cumulative installed capacity of 6MW electric equivalent.

In the large-scale category, it ranges plants with over 250 KW electric equivalent capacity. Almost 190 such plants are reported to be existing with a cumulative capacity of 280 MW el. eq. Considering the biogas up-gradation units in a biogas facility for producing biomethane or bio-CNG from the biogas – there are around ~100 such facilities as reported by end of 2019. Further, many more plants with up-gradation facilities are going to come up under the SATAT scheme in the upcoming years.

How can the biogas industry help the Government in reducing pollution?

Energy: Burning of fossil fuels for energy, whether by domestic, commercial, industry, power plants utilization, is the most important contributor to GHG emissions. Replacing fossils (e.g. coal) with biogas for electricity production would nearly eliminate particulate matter emissions and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 40% (reference: IPCC, 2006).

Transport: Gas vehicles running on biomethane can lead to a 60-80% reduction in vehicle GHG emissions compared to gasoline (IRENA, 2017). Gas vehicles also emit lower NOx and particulate matter than their diesel-based counterparts (Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, 2017; WBA).

Landfill: Diverting organic waste away from landfills: By collecting and using food waste or the organic fraction of municipal solid waste for the production of energy, cities can not only generate their renewable power via biogas but also divert the waste from landfills, which leads to GHG emissions. Capturing emissions from organic waste in existing landfills: Landfills are the third largest anthropogenic source of methane, accounting for approximately 11% of estimated global emissions.

What is the production of biofertilizers and what is the potential?

Bio CNG and Solid Organic Manure or Digestate can be produced in large quantities under India’s SATAT program, which has already been announced the launch of more than 5000 projects across the country. Thus, approx. 8000 kg/d of Bio CNG and 27 tonne/d of solid organic manure per plant average plant size is assumed. It was estimated that 50 MMTPA of solid organic manure/digestate will be generated in India once these projects are installed. A suggested application rate of the digestate is approximately 40 tonnes per 2.5 acres which simply means that the Biogas industry in India has the potential to take care of a minimum of 31,25,000 acres/annum in India by application of only solid organic manure.

How the Indian Biogas Association is helping the industry?

Indian Biogas Association is a platform for biogas operators, manufacturers, and planners of biogas plants, representatives from public policy, science, and research in India, and all other stakeholders of the biogas ecosystem to come together and ensure that the biogas ecosystem remains healthy. The association mainly divides the work into technical, financial, and policy categories. The vision includes propagating biogas sustainably, and in the process, improving the lives of our countrymen by bridging the energy deficit in a greener way while reducing pollution and waste of our cities to make them smart.

The association is also working jointly with the German Biogas Association and already have got the MoUs with SABIA, Brazillian Biogas Association, World Bioenergy Association, World Biogas Association, and ENAMA to have the know-how exchange to figure out the best solutions for India.

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