Diwali has left its customary aftermath in the Delhi’s air. A sheet of haze has been blanketing the Delhi for more than the last 10 days and the air quality has dipped to the “very poor” category. As a consequence, EPCA chief Bhure Lal declared a public health emergency in Delhi-NCR and imposed a temporary ban on coal-based industries in the region. Earlier the ban was till 8th November, which now has got extended to 15th November.

After the pet coke ban by National Green Tribunal (NGT) in Delhi/NCR in November 2017, the majority of the industries shifted to coal as the primary fuel. Many of them had to make huge capital investments as well but even after that, these industries had to shut down their operations for more than two weeks. The industry is, obviously, not happy with the supreme court’s orders. But the worst is actually to come! The NGT is planning a complete ban on coal for industrial activities shortly. The government is aiming to cut dependence on and phase out the dirty fossil-based fuels and encourage the use of natural gas and renewables.

Thus, coal doesn’t seem like a sustainable fuel and now industries are looking for a way out. The pressure is obviously about to come on natural gas and agro-based/biomass resources. Due to cleaner combustion, the Indian government is pushing the use of natural gas. Over the last few years, utility companies have invested heavily in the distribution and management channels for piped natural gas. We now have the availability of natural gas in almost all the major industrial hubs in NCR. But despite the availability, the industry is reluctant to make a shift.

For shifting to natural gas, the factories would first need to make an investment for the pipeline connections and suitable gas burning systems. The industries which had recently made a huge investment in 2017 after the pet coke ban, and haven’t been able to recover that cost yet, are not currently ready for another big investment. Also, the important factor is the operational costs. If we compare natural gas with coal, the fuel bill is expected to increase by at least 40%. This is a huge cost. The industry is already facing a tough time post-GST implementation and demonetization. Then what about the biomass?

Biomass or agro-residue is basically the fuel sources derived from agricultural waste. Unlike natural gas and coal, they are renewable resources of energy and heat production with zero carbon footprints. But all that glitters is not gold! The biomass also has several shortcomings:

  • No trusted channel creates a feeling of distrust: The biomass industry is highly unregulated and industries cannot rely on biomass suppliers for their quality, services, and regular fuel supply. The coal and natural gas industry, on the other hand, is highly regulated and well managed. There have been several instances reported where adulterated biomass adversely affected the system’s performance leading to serious accidents.
  • Seasonal variation in the quality: Biomass being a natural product, changes characteristics, availability, and price with the change in season. During winters and rainy season, the biomass quality usually goes down for a worst and price increases. Many of the biomasses are inherently high in moisture (e.g., wood and forest-based biomass). The calorific value of these fuels reduces drastically in this season. Thus, biomass suppliers are often afraid to commit long term quality assurance.
  • System competency: Biomass being low in density, is used as briquettes or pellets. In the NCR region, the pellets prices are already sky soaring. A good quality biomass pellets (GCV>4000 Kcal/Kg) costs between INR 12-16/kg in this region. Compared to coal, pellets consumption increases by 5-20%. Considering the high cost of pellets, this makes the pellets at par with natural gas. Availability remains the other issue with the pellets as manufacturers are limited. Biomass briquettes thus remains the only suitable alternative to coal and natural gas. But biomass briquettes are not just competent with the existing systems. The briquettes cannot be fed into automatic feeding systems.

So, what’s the solution ultimately? We don’t know either. Being a biomass fuel company, we are trying to find the solution to the same as well. We have developed a new fuel Astillas and have started local production in our two centers at Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. The fuel is clean, smoke-less and competent with automatic feeding systems with higher calorific value than briquettes and pellets. Also, that comes without any increase in fuel bills. The fuel costs remain at par with the coal. If you or your industry need any help with the biomass fuels, reach out to us with your requirement at info@steamaxindia.com or fill this contact form and we will get back to you.