By Gaurav Kedia,
Air pollution affects everyone from unborn babies to school-going children to senior citizens, wherever we are, whether inside the house or on the street. Children are more vulnerable to air pollution as exposure to dirty air with a higher concentration of pollutants damages brain development and leads to cognitive and motor impairments. 600,000 children die prematurely every year because of polluted air.
Air pollution affects poor people as they do not have access to clean fuels and technologies for domestic use. According to the World Health Organization, around 7 million premature deaths occur due to air pollution, and 4 million of these people belong to the Asia-pacific region. A survey conducted by WHO across 1600 cities concluded that Delhi has the worst air quality in comparison to most of the major cities of the world. The air quality in Delhi is reported to be six times greater than the normal range, especially during winters. Stubble burning by farmers in the neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh is also one of the major reasons for decreasing air quality in the capital. According to the data from the Indian Institute of Meteorology, stubble burning by farmers contributed 6 to 48% to Delhi’s air PM 2.5 in November.
The right to clean air and a healthy environment is a constitutional right in more than 100 countries. Tackling this problem of air pollution requires combined efforts of the policymakers, NGOs, industries, farmers and general public. Since air quality is fundamental for the wellbeing of every living being, the action to preserve it must involve everyone. Governments should take the leadership role to create policies, while the rest of us must support policies to achieve the sustainable development goals to mitigate the effects of climate change and build sustainable cities and communities, which ensure prosperous and peaceful life to all.
To address the issue of air pollution due to stubble burning, governments should educate farmers about the various environmentally friendly methods to use biomass and incentivize such practices.
Use of Biomass to Combat Air Pollution
Biogas is a renewable source of energy produced through the anaerobic digestion of organic wastes by microbes in sealed containers.The organic waste includes food waste, agricultural wastes and sewage sludge. Biogas mainly consists of methane, carbondioxide and other gases. Biogas is combustible and can be used for multiple purposes such as electricity generation, heating, cooking, and vehicle fuel. It can be produced both at the micro level for consumption in small communities or buildings, or macro level for distribution into larger grids.
Biogas industry addresses 9 out of the 17 sustainable development goals set by the United Nations. It contributes towards the abatement of global warming by reducing the emissions of Greenhouse Gases. Generation of electricity from biogas projects reduces the dependence on fossil fuels and reduces carbon emissions by completing the carbon cycle. Apart from these benefits, biogas units also generate nutrient-rich biofertilizers as a by-product that can be used to increase soil fertility in farmlands.
To reduce vehicular and industrial pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels, biomass can be used for the generation of biofuels. Various types of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels such as ethanol, methanol, bio-oil, bio-char, hydrogen and methane can be produced from biomass. These fuels can be used for various applications such as fuel in engines, cells, and for electricity generation. Biofuels can be blended with fossil fuels like diesel and petrol to reduce the emissions of Greenhouse Gases from industrial units and vehicles.
According to the concept of circular economy, the production of fertilizers should be closed in a loop to prevent pollution caused by the dissipation of the fertilizing nutrients into the air. Biomass waste is a storehouse of valuable nutrients that conserve soil health and enhance plant growth. Biomass generated during crop harvesting, residue from livestock rearing, and residue from slaughterhouses and food processing units can be used to generate nutrient-rich compost that improves the soil structure and enhances crop productivity.
Gasification of Biomass
Biomass can be converted into producer gas of low calorific value consisting of carbon monoxide, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen. This gas can be treated and made suitable for use in domestic purposes for cooking and lighting and industrial purposes such as generation of electricity, and RNG for vehicles. The pellets and briquettes made from crop residues can be fed to the gasification plants to generate clean energy from biogas.
Used as Fodder
Biomass generated from agriculture can be used as fodder for livestock. The organic waste from farming contains protein, energy and various nutraceuticals. It can be mixed with other supplements and fed to cattle and other animals to maintain their health and vigour.
Effective use of biomass can provide multiple benefits to farmers by providing a sustainable source of heat and energy, improving soil fertility, enhancing productivity and thereby, increasing their income.
Biomass is a highly valuable source of energy that can help to combat climate change and preserve the environment. However, direct burning of crop residues for cooking and heating purposes creates air pollution and poses health risks. Burning farm stubble also results in a loss of soil nutrients, which affect the crop yield.
Awareness, education and action are the need of the hour to counter the problem of air pollution. Farmers must be made aware about the effects of stubble burning on the environment and alternate methods to dispose of farm waste.
Governments must introduce advanced technologies for the efficient conversion of biomass into several forms such as biogas, biofuels, and biofertilizers. Facilities must be provided to easily transfer the farm waste to the biomass conversion plants during the harvest season.Several plants for conversion of biomass to biogas and biofuel must be established to ensure that majority of the organic waste generated is converted to clean energy. Industries must be encouraged to adopt cleaner fuels and steps should be taken to ensure the availability of bio fuels for vehicles.
(The author is Chairman, Indian Biogas Association. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)