The import bill is a major concern for any nation, as imports can typically be more expensive than domestic production. One way to reduce India's import bill is by using organic fertilizers. In 2021, India imported urea fertilizer worth 6523.53 million USD, Phosphate fertilizer worth 4169.95 million USD and 1036.79 million USD worth of Potassium based fertilizers. The total amount of all kinds of fertilizers imported in 2021–2022 was 12,765.66 million USD. The country imports urea, DAP, MOP, and other fertilizers mainly from China, United Arab Emirates, and Spain.
Organic fertilizers such as fermented organic manure (the output of a biogas plant), compost, vermicompost, biofertilizers, and green manures are derived from natural sources and can be used as an alternative to synthetic fertilizers. These sources provide organic carbon apart from other essential nutrients, which is essential for healthy crop growth.
Organic fertilizers can be cheaper, more locally available, and more sustainable than chemical fertilizers. They help maintain soil fertility, improve soil structure, and increase soil microbial activity, along with a reduction in the risk of soil erosion. Organic fertilizers also help in reducing the environmental impact of chemical fertilizers, such as pollution and contamination of groundwater. All of this leads to more sustainable development goals.
Thus, considering the above fact, organic fertilizer coming out of biogas plants is one of the vital outputs apart from energy generation and waste management. One biogas bottling plant with a capacity of 100 cubic meters per day can fill 7 cylinders of 6 kg (LPG equivalent gas) capacity in a day. In one year, the plant can generate energy equivalent to 21462 litres of petrol. Increasing the number of biogas plants in the country can help India reduce its LNG import bill by 60% over the next ten years. Moreover, setting up biogas plants in rural areas can help to develop a secondary source of income for farmers and animal husbandry, as well as generate employment opportunities in both skilled and unskilled sectors.
A biogas plant based on segregated municipal solid waste (MSW) with a capacity of 1 tonne per day can generate 24 tonnes of organic fertilizer per day, which can be further upgraded and processed into liquid and solid manure. This organic fertilizer while being used for sustainable farming, will not only fit into the government’s agenda but also provide the Indian population with healthier organic food.
According to the estimates, replacing one tonne of chemical fertilizer with organic digestate can save one tonne of oil, 108 tonnes of water, and 7 tonnes of carbon emissions. Farmers can reduce their expenses by switching to organic fertiliser as the prices of organic fertilizers from biogas plants are highly competitive. The average price of organic fertilizer comes around INR 4 per kg, which can be further reduced when dealing in bulk quantities. If the farmers move a step forward and set up their individual or community biogas plants, they can reduce their energy expenses and also earn additional revenue by selling excess biogas, and organic fertilizer. Promoting organic fertilizer can also help the government save money it would have spent subsidizing synthetic fertilizers, which could be used for the development of the country. In the recent budget, this intention is shown through the PM PRANAM scheme [PM Programme for Restoration, Awareness, Nourishment, and Amelioration of Mother Earth].
In a nutshell, the biogas industry can provide sustainable solutions for economic growth, especially in rural ecosystems, which need economic opportunities. Building and taking care of biogas plants creates jobs, helps the government meet its SDGs and climate goals, and turns organic waste into useful things like biogas and organic fertilizer. The organic fertilizer generated from biogas plants can help to improve the productivity of our agricultural land and the quality of the crop yield, which will help to increase the income of the farmers as envisioned by the Government of India.