India develops clean energy
You have to travel to northern India to see a biomass plant turning cow dung and manure into energy in a pilot project that aims to help reduce air pollution while benefiting local farmers.
Most homes in rural communities in India have traditionally used dung and cow dung as fuel, drying it into patties in the sun.
This polluting habit has persisted despite government efforts to phase it out and replace it with subsidized gas cylinders.
Now, villages on the outskirts of Indore, the state capital of Madhya Pradesh, can benefit from their dung, thanks to a pilot biomass power plant that uses it to provide energy for the city.
“We have very good quality dung, and we keep it clean to ensure that it fetches the best price,” says farmer Suresh Sisodia.
His production is one of the many beneficiaries of the so-called “Gobardhan” project, which means “dung money” in Hindi, which was born with the biomass plant in the neighborhood.
It was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in person last February. The 46-year-old farmer earns 218 euros per truckload of fresh manure for the plant, more than the average monthly income of a farm household in India.
Mr. Sisodia has 50 head of cattle on his farm. He occasionally offsets his costs by selling manure as fertilizer, but now he hopes for a more sustainable source of income.
“Farmers collect it once every six or 12 months, and some seasons they don’t. But the plant could provide us with a regular income,” he says, adding that his farm produces enough manure to fill a truck every three weeks.
All of his livestock’s feces are transported to the plant, which mixes it with household waste to produce flammable methane and an organic residue that can be returned to farms as fertilizer.
In the near term, the plant is expected to process 500 tons of waste per day, including at least 25 tons of cattle dung, which would be enough to feed Indore’s public transportation system, with a considerable surplus.
“Half will feed Indore’s buses and the other half will be sold to industrial customers,” said the plant’s boss, Nitesh Kumar Tripathi.
However, the “Gobardhan” project has encountered many obstacles, such as the poor state of the roads in this rural area, making it difficult for trucks to reach the farms where the natural fuel is collected.
Farmers were suspicious at first, fearing that this was a plan to enrich them. They then demanded “guarantees of prompt and regular payments” before committing, said Ankit Choudhary, who is in charge of the potential suppliers he is soliciting in the villages.
Modi’s government has high hopes for the initiative and has pledged to install 75 more biomass plants over the next two years.
Tapping into alternative energy sources is an urgent necessity for the country, which depends on coal to meet nearly three-quarters of the energy needs of its 1.4 billion people.
Indian cities are among the most polluted urban centers in the world. Air pollution is responsible for more than one million deaths per year in India.
“Gobardhan” does not fail to seduce Hindu nationalists, Mr. Modi’s main electorate, and all those for whom cows are sacred.
Under their leadership, “cow vigilantes” have decimated cattle slaughterhouses, usually owned by Muslims, and lynched anyone suspected of helping to slaughter them.
But these cattle-centric religious policies have resulted in the abandonment of cows that no longer produce milk and now roam the country.
Government supporters, such as Malini Laxmansingh Gaur, former mayor of Indore, hope that these biomass plants will encourage farmers to keep their cows.
“The extra income will both clean up the villages and combat cattle roaming,” she says.