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Biomass Power: An Economical and Reliable Source of Energy for Rural Areas

22 Oct 2018

India is a fast developing country; with high economic and industrial growth, energy demand is also growing. Non-renewable resources have used frequently in India due to lack of awareness and acceptability of renewable energy sources by power consumer. There are many disadvantage of using non-renewable energy resources as they have limited existence in environment, non-eco friendly and not economical as India import all these type of energy resources. Therefore it is essential to explore many others sustainable energy sources. One of those non conventional sources is biomass energy which can provide firm power of grid quality. 
Biomass is a renewable source of energy contains complex mix of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen. Biomass of this content is obtained from living or dead plants, byproduct of crop production, wood and agro based industry. Biomass energy is used in the form of cow dung cake, firewood, husk and many available natural feed stocks. However, direct use of biomass in solid form is not safe and painless as they produce lot of smoke and ash. Therefore Biogas plants are being motivated by the Goverment. As they produce no smoke i.e. pollution free. The biomass based power generation is now considerably on the rise trend. It is mainly because power demand is increasing in rural area also and less option for alternative fuel. It has been fundamental now to provide energy by biomass for the development of civilization. In present scenario, global warming, decrement of resources and other international issues have led to the decision of sustainable development. And in power sector use of renewable energy like biomass is the need one of the major green source. 
Government of India deployed different policies and executed that the strategies for biomass power generation. Such approaches have included the whole biomass energy sector which incorporated the biogas, bio diesel etc. in the policies. Government has focused on the deployment and development biomass energy sector with strategic policy and program. Many subsidies are provided for establishment of the biogas plant. New biomass gasification Technology was also evolved which converts biomass in to syngas, which are more efficient. 
Larger population of India lives in rural area. There are 0.638 millions villages in India, therefore to plan for electrification in villages; biomass will be vital option as a renewable source of energy. Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has taken several initiatives like central financial assistance and fiscal incentives for promoting the use of bio-energy from agro residues, plantations and from various waste of urban and industries. MNRE is using the methodology for providing the subsidies based on co-generation and generation by biomass gasification. Government of India has focused on the deployment and development biomass energy sector with strategic policy and program. Grid-interactive renewable power projects based on wind power, biomass, small hydro and solar are mainly private investment driven, with favourable tariff policy regimes established by State Electricity Regulatory Commissions, and most of the renewable power capacity addition has come through this route. 

Present Status:

The total installed capacity for electricity generation in India is 344 GW as on August’ 2018, the renewable energy is contributed more than 20 % of total generation.  The major source fulfill the energy requirement of India are Oil and Coal. The energy generation of India using these conventional sources is 221.80 GW by thermal (coal, natural gas and oil), 6.78 GW by nuclear energy, 45.45 GW by hydro and 72 GW by renewable energy. Out of the total renewable installed capacity, the biomass based generation is being contributing approximately 13% power. The details of source-wise installed capacity of renewable energy as on 31.07.2018 are as follows:
 
India has surplus agricultural and forest area which comprises about 600 million metric tons of biomass availability per year. In India the present grid connected installed capacity of biomass power is 8700 MW which also includes bagasse cogeneration and Biomass (non-bagasse cogeneration)/captive power capacity is 676.81 MW. Beside above, the waste to power capacity grid connected and off grid capacity is 138 MW and 172 MW respectively. The research reveals that India has large potential for bio-mass feed stock from different sources.  

Biomass resources in India:

Various biomass resources are available in India in different forms. They can be classified simply in the way they are available in nature as: grasses, woody plants, fruits, vegetables, manures and aquatic plants. Algae and Jatropha are also now used for manufacturing bio-diesel. Core distinct sources of biomass energy can be classified as residue of agricultural crop, energy plantation and municipal and industrial waste. India has huge amount of agriculture land area, so massive residues are produced here. These residue contents the potential of biomass feedstock for the use of energy generation. 
All the organic materials produced as the by-product from processing harvesting of agricultural crop are termed as agricultural residue. These agricultural residues can further be categorized as primary and secondary residue. Residue which is obtained in the field at the time of yield are field based or primary residue, whereas those are assembled during processing are defined as processing based or secondary residue. Rice straw, sugar cane tops etc. are primary residue whereas rice husk and bagasse are example of secondary residue. Primary residues are also used as animal feed, fertilizers, etc. Therefore its availability for energy application is low. While secondary residues are obtained in large quantity at yielding site and can be confined as energy source. 
Due to dependency of large population of India on agriculture, cattle and livestock also survive on large scale. This makes the biomass potential availability of diverse kinds in Indian villages crops that have been used for biomass power include the corn, sugarcane, grains, pulses, rubber, etc.. Residues from crop obtained as biomass for energy application are dry and wet biomass. These crops differentiate themselves by several factors which enable them for considering as biomass potential like calorific value, moisture content, carbon proportion, ash content, etc. These properties are significant for wet and dry biomass conversion into useful energy. The good potential crops have high yield of dry material. Prominent biomasses used currently as energy plantation are Kadam, Babul, Bamboo, Julie Flora, Melia dubia
There are many others potential source of energy besides agricultural residue from farm and urban areas. The agro based industries, road side shrubs, plantation, vegetable market, road sweeping, etc. are the area where significant amount of biomass waste generates. As per Ministry of New and Renewable Energy approximately 200 million tones of agro processing and domestic wastes are generated annually in India and disposed in a distributed manner, because these areas are managed by poor farmers and the unorganized sector, rural worker and the low income small agro based industry sector. Since this process is at no or little production costs therefore they are ignored and not utilized efficiently like major amounts of leafy wastes are burnt and cause air pollution. 
MNRE is promoting Biomass Gasifier based power plants for producing electricity using locally available biomass resources. These power plants are installed in rural areas where surplus biomass such as tiny wood chip, rice husk, arhar stalks, cotton stalks and other agro-residues are available to meet the unmet demand of electrical energy interlaid for lighting, water pumping and microenterprises counting telecom towers etc. Various projects related to biomass power generation are installed in various state of India for fulfill energy requirement by biomass gasification. The leading state for biomass power projects are Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The states which have taken position of leadership of bagasse cogeneration projects are Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. In bagasse cogeneration we use waste of sugar mills known as bagasse.

Biomass power generation technologies:

After judging the potential of biomass, technology also implemented the biological and thermo-chemical conversion for utilizing biomass to produce fuel gases. These fuel gases can be used for power generation. In India various feed stocks are available for conversion to the bio-fuels as well as for power generation applications. The variety of processes exists for biomass conversions are depends on the type and quantity of biomass feedstock, environment and economic conditions etc. Conversion of biomass to energy is undertaken using two main process technologies: thermo-chemical and bio-chemical/biological. Mechanical extraction (with esterification) is the third technology for producing energy from biomass, e.g. rapeseed methyl ester (RME) bio-diesel. 
The thermal conversion processes consist of pyrolysis, biomass gasification, combustion and liquefaction. In Bio-chemical conversion, two main processes are used, fermentation and an-aerobic digestion, together with a lesser-used process based on mechanical extraction/chemical con-version. Selection of conversion technologies for biomass depends upon the form in which the energy is required like combustion produce heat, mechanical, electricity energy; pyrolysis, fermentation and mechanical extraction produce liquid fuels suitable for use as transportation fuels etc. Gasification processed biomass to form syngas. 
The biomass based power plant is designed to generate electricity for the grid by burning a variety of renewable biomass fuels. The plant uses the standard Rankine cycle, in which the biomass is burnt directly to fire a boiler that can use such biomass to generate steam at high pressure and high temperature to drive an impulse turbine generator set. MNRE has developed Biomass Knowledge Portal as a single source with effort to make all information related to biomass power available. It is envisaged to help enhance the capacities and confidence of the sector stakeholders like project promoters, financial institutions, regulators, policymakers, State Nodal Agencies, etc. through the collection and dissemination of updated, accurate and effective information related to the biomass sector. Four sets of programmes are being implemented with the aim to generate competitively priced bio power and/or heat from agricultural, agro-industrial residues and plantations and urban & industrial wastes. These are:

Biomass power / bagasse cogeneration

Non-bagasse cogeneration
Biomass gasifier
Urban & Industrial wastes
Promotional biomass policy
In recent years, India’s energy consumption has been increasing at a relatively fast rate due to population and economic growth. With rapid urbanization and improving standards of living for millions of Indian households, the demand is likely to raise a lot. Therefore, Govt. of India is now making various planning and policies in energy sector. Since Sustainable Development is now the key target of the world, therefore Renewable Energy Resources are considering for power generation. Ministry of New & Renewable Energy of India has developed many project and policies in this field and promoting to adopt these methodologies by providing various subsidies and incentives. In the 12th five year plan period government is allocating total Rs. 46.00 crores for biomass Gasifier scheme which includes the promotional and other administrative activities. 
MNRE, Government of India aim to increase the use of environmentally sustainable biomass power and cogenerations based technologies in the country and enhance electricity supply through renewable energy sources. Scope of Co-generation by biomass is to meet the requirement of captive power and thermal power. The setting up of biomass co-generation projects (excluding bagasse co-generation) is to be promoted in industry, with at least 50% of power for confined use, and a stipulation for the surplus power to be selling to grid. This will amplify the use of non-conventional energy sources and conserve the use of fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal and oil. Biomass power & cogeneration programme is implemented with the main objective of promoting technologies for optimum use of country’s biomass resources for grid power generation.  
The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) provides Central Financial Assistance in the form of capital subsidy and financial incentives to the biomass energy projects in India. Central Financial Assistance is fixed to the projects on the basis of installed capacity, energy production mode and its application etc. Economic support will be made accessible selectively through a transparent and competitive procedure. The government provides a onetime capital subsidy based on the installed capacity of the project. The entire capital subsidy amount is transferred directly to the lead bank/lending financial institution for the purpose of offsetting the loan amount after winning commissioning of project. In case the project is situated by the promoters through their personal resources, the Central Financial Assistance would be transferred directly to promoters after commissioning of the project. 
Besides the Central Financial Assistance mentioned in, fiscal incentives such as 40% accelerated depreciation, concessional import duty, excise duty, tax holiday for 10 years etc., are available for Biomass power projects. The benefit of concessional custom duty and excise duty exemption are available on equipments required for initial setting up of biomass projects based on certification by Ministry.  In addition, State Electricity Regulatory Commissions have determined preferential tariffs and Renewable Purchase Standards (RPS). Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) provides loan for setting up biomass power and bagasse cogeneration projects. 

Benefits 

Biomass has always been an important energy source for the country considering the benefits it offers.  It is renewable, widely available, carbon-neutral and has the potential to provide significant employment in the rural areas.  Biomass is also capable of providing firm energy.  Biomass power generation in India is an industry that attracts investments of over Rs.600 crores every year, generating more than 5000 million units of electricity and yearly employment of more than 10 million man-days in the rural areas.  For efficient utilization of biomass, bagasse based cogeneration in sugar mills and biomass power generation have been taken up under biomass power and cogeneration programme.
Biomass is renewable in nature and has the potential to provide large productive employment in rural areas. It is considered as one of the promising sources for generation of power / energy using commercially available thermal and biological conversion technologies. Considering the importance of biomass power, the Government of India and various states with high biomass power potential are trying to promote biomass power through various policies, programmes and financial assistance. Despite huge efforts, the biomass sector is still not able to tap the potential available optimally. The sector faces immense barriers and challenges in enhancing this vast scattered renewable energy resource. 

Barriers and Challenges:

Unlike solar and wind, biomass is relatively a much reliable source of renewable energy free of fluctuation and does not need storage as is the case with solar. But it is not the preferred renewable energy source till now, mainly due to the challenges involved in ensuring reliable biomass supply chain. This is because of the wide range in its physical properties and fluctuation in availability round the year depending on cropping patterns. Biomass from agriculture is available only for a short period after its harvesting, which can stretch only for 2-3 months in a year. So there is a need to have robust institutional and market mechanism for efficient procurement of the required quantity of biomass, within this stipulated short time, and safe storage till it is finally used.
Some of the major barriers faced in faster realization of available biomass power potential for a variety of end use applications are 
i. Inadequate information on biomass availability, 
ii. Absence of organized formal biomass markets, 
iii. Problems associated with management of biomass collection, transportation, processing and storage; problems associated with setting up large size biomass plants, 
iv. Non-availability of cost effective sub megawatt systems for conversion of biomass to energy in a decentralized manner, and (v) lack of capability to generate bankable projects on account of financial and liquidity problems, etc.
The major challenge in ensuring sustained biomass supply at reasonable prices are increasing competing usage of biomass resources, leading to higher opportunity costs; unorganized nature of biomass market, which is characterized by lack of mechanization in agriculture sector, defragmented land holdings, and vast number of small or marginal farmers. Another major challenge is the cost of biomass storage and transportation to power plants, which is consistently rising rapidly with time.
There is the need to evolve a robust organized biomass market through innovative business models, motivating rural entrepreneurs to take up the responsibility of supplying biomass to processing facilities. There is also the need to develop and exploit energy plantations to take up energy crops on marginal and degraded land, as a substitute for crop wastes.
Some of the Indian states leading the pack in establishing biomass based power supply are Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Chhattisgarh. Ironically, many states with agriculture based economy, despite good biomass power potential, have not properly been able to utilize the opportunity and figure low in biomass power achievements. Only Uttar Pradesh in north India has utilized large part of the biomass potential, which can be attributed to its sugarcane industry, with cogeneration power plants. 
There is also wide variation in tariff being offered for biomass power plants in different states. Government policy can play a big role in enhancing the viability of biomass power plants and in supporting investment growth in the biomass power sector in states with high biomass power potential.

Way Forward:

It can be concluded that huge potential exist for exploration of available biomass in India to convert it into energy. Various resources in wide variety and different form of biomass are available in India. Diverse sources are there to obtain waste biomass e.g. agricultural waste, food wastes, industrial wastewaters generated in large volumes which hints the tendency to switch over to non conventional source of energy. Agencies and industries are practicing the conversion of different waste biomass to energy in India and have benefits from these. 
Various projects related to biomass power generation are installed in various state of India for fulfill energy requirement especially in rural areas. The states are also generating power by bagasse cogeneration which uses the waste of sugar mills. A number of power generation projects are already proved successful in India based on gasification based cogeneration rural electrification plants. These plants have not only solved the rural electrification problem for the remote villages, where infrastructural costs could have been quite high for conventional electrification, but also the power generation cost has also been relatively low. The prime motto of Govt. to provide the subsidy or providing financial assistance is to encourage the use of non conventional sources of energy, which helps in sustainable development of nation.
Looking at the way biomass energy is consumed currently in all sectors of the global economy, whether in the industry or for grid power or for captive power, the demand will definitely increase. This increasing demand can be managed through effective strategies and new policies that take into account the uncertainties in demand and supply, cost related problems, availability of land and water resources, as well as the environmental impacts of biomass. Further, the policies should be tailored to different applications and technologies. 
There is large scope exists for the exploitation of bio-crops for their conversion to bio-fuels e.g. ethanol and bio-diesel, by thermo conversion as well as bio-chemical conversion routes. Apart from these energy crops, a huge potential exists for energy generation from the various industrial wastewaters by bio-chemical routes. Similarly other biomass wastes e.g. wood wastes, crop residues, animal manures, and municipal wastes also bear a large potential for energy generation using bio-chemical as well as thermo-chemical routes. Thus biomass conversion to energy and fuels may be a quite rewarding in Indian scenario.

Conclusion:

Biomass has always been an important energy source for the country considering the benefits and promises it offers. It is a carbon neutral fuel source for the generation of electricity; and apart from providing the much needed relief from power shortages, biomass power projects could generate employment in rural areas.
About 32% of the total primary energy use in the country is derived from biomass and more than 70% of the country’s population depends upon it for their energy needs. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Government of India has realized the potential and role of biomass energy in the Indian context and has initiated a number of programmes for the promotion of efficient biomass conversion technologies to be used in various sectors of the economy. 
 
Ashok Upadhyay
 
BE (Electrical), M Tech. Hon. (Ind. Engg.) 
M. Phil (Renewable Energy),  PHD Scholar
Dy. Director (Generation)
M.P. Electricity Regulatory Commission Bhopal (M.P.)
MPERC, Bhopal (M.P.)
 

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