Biogas is key to achieving energy security, meeting climate goals

Let us begin with some facts. Each year, landfills around the world generate 30-70 million tonnes of methane—a gas responsible for trapping heat and warming the atmosphere.


 In India, the waste sector contributes about 20% of methane emissions. As a highly flammable gas, methane causes landfills in India to catch fire. The bad news is India is likely to generate nearly thrice the waste it currently does in a couple of decades: “165 million tonnes by 2030 and 436 million tonnes by 2050.”

Similarly, thousands of acres of farmlands in India burn every year as they get rid of crop waste, especially the stubble after wheat and paddy harvest. Punjab, for example, generates around 22 million tons of crop waste annually. Besides causing air pollution, the crop residue burning contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases—CO2, N2O, and CH4. 

The question is, how can we stop crop waste in our farmlands, and waste in landfills from burning?

Biogas comes into the picture
It has been quite some time since India realized the importance of redirecting organic waste from landfills, and other sources to create energy. This is why Biogas is getting all the attention now. And why should it not, especially when it has multiple benefits? Biogas production reduces methane emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. 

In case you do not know, Biogas is produced through a process called anaerobic digestion, where bacteria break down the organic waste in the absence of oxygen. This produces a mixture of gases, mainly methane, and carbon dioxide, which can be used as a source of energy. Biogas is a renewable source of energy, as the raw materials used to produce it, can be replenished. It is also cleaner in comparison to traditional fossil fuels since it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions when burned.

Growing interest in Compressed Biogas 
You must be wondering what is Compressed Biogas. Generally, biogas contains 55-65 percent methane and 35-45 percent carbon dioxide. To enable it to be used as a transport fuel and industrial fuel, it needs to be purified so that it contains about 92-98 percent methane. Once biogas is removed from carbon dioxide (CO2) and other impurities like hydrogen sulfide, its methane content gets upgraded and becomes an ideal substitute for CNG. 

The biggest advantage that compressed biogas has over CNG is the fact that CNG is a by-product of a fossil fuel (petroleum), but CBG can be produced from any biomass, starting from municipal waste to crop residue and cattle dung to effluents or from sewage treatment plant. Like CNG, compressed biogas, too, can be transported through cylinders or pipelines to retail outlets.

India’s potential in compressed biogas production
In the last few years, there has been a push toward making CBG a potential replacement for CNG in the automotive, industrial, and commercial sectors. This is largely because of the abundance of biomass in the country. According to a study by the Indian Institutes of Technology-Guwahati, India has the potential to produce 80,000 metric tonnes of compressed biogas daily. That is quite a significant number!

Last year, India installed Asia's largest Compressed Biogas plant in Punjab, which was a huge development as such projects come with a slew of benefits: reduced waste generation, reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and increased renewable energy production. According to a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), if India can gradually increase biogas and biomethane consumption to 20% between 2025-2030, it will be able to reduce import bills for fuels by nearly US$29 billion. 

Government throwing its weight behind Biogas
From a situation where lack of technological prowess, high setup costs, and other stressors were preventing large-scale adoption of biogas, India has now come to a point where it has identified a springboard to take a decisive leap! What stands out in the government’s approach is how it has strategized financial assistance to the biogas sector.  For example, the government introduced the GOBARdhan scheme, which consolidates several schemes/ assistances under one initiative. This scheme promotes organic waste conversion to biogas or CBG. 

Going by the annual report of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) has approved biogas and waste-to-energy projects worth Rs 773 crore, of which Rs 345 crore has been paid out. Moreover, with support from the Centre, India is likely to see around 500 biogas plants getting installed across the country by the end of 2024. 

A less talked about impact: biofertilisers
A less-discussed aspect of biogas is its contribution to the production of a nutrient-rich biofertilizer called Fermented Organic Manure. Wondering how? It is not too difficult to guess. The secondary product (called bio-slurry) produced in the process of decomposition is a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer, which helps restore soil biodiversity and augment crop yields. Hence, the biogas industry has the potential to enhance farmers' income by producing high-quality organic fertilizers and organic pesticides. We need it not just to promote the eco-conscious method of farming, but also to reduce India's increasing fertilizer import bill, which is projected to increase from $12 billion in 2021–22 to $20 billion by 2030.

With a slew of benefits on offer, India is doing well to streamline its efforts to tap into the potential of biogas.

Written By:

Subhojit Goswami

A communications professional with 15+ years of cumulative experience in journalism and communications, envisioning and creating digital content, and designing and spearheading communication strategy for both nonprofits and corporations. Subhojit holds a Master’s Degree in English, with an inclination for anything literary! He has 15+ years of experience in journalism and communications, designing and spearheading communication strategy for both nonprofits and corporations. He is fond of traveling, reviewing books and plays, and watching parallel films.

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