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Rural India has the potential to support sustainable bioenergy development in the COVID-19 era

Rural India has the potential to support sustainable bioenergy development in the COVID-19 era

Name: Priyabrata Pradhan (144350002)

Supervisors: Prof. Amit Arora & Prof. Sanjay Mahajani 

Department: Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas (CTARA)

The topic of research: Bioenergy


Description of the work:

Rural India has the potential to support sustainable bioenergy development in the COVID-19 era

The sustainable development goals of the United Nations underline the importance of renewable energy to transform the world. The recent outbreak of corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has certainly impacted the global goal of clean energy for all. Bioenergy can play a lead role in this scenario due to its wider availability and broad range of applicability. Despite significant advancement in this domain, not much attention has been paid to a holistic system analysis for development of an adaptive and sustainable bioenergy system. In his PhD, Pradhan proposed a conceptual framework for a sustainable bioenergy system in Indian context, as shown in the Figure. The research work was carried out under the supervision of Prof. Amit Arora (CTARA) and Prof. Sanjay Mahajani (Chemical Engineering).


D:\PhD Paper\4th Paper_Techno-economic analysis_Published in APEN\other word files\Fig. 2.tif

Figure: A conceptual framework for a rural bioenergy system [Adapted from Pradhan et al., Appl. Energy 2019; 249:1-13]

The idea is to process the underutilized agricultural biomass in a pelletization unit to form fuel pellets. Further, the fuel pellets can be converted to producer gas (a gaseous fuel) using a gasifier and finally, the gas can be used as a source of energy for community cooking in rural areas.


It was observed from field demonstrations that the cooking time and the feedstock consumption were reduced by 25% and 28.5%, respectively while using a gasifier-based cookstove compared to a traditional chulha. The particulate matter emissions inside the cooking environment were also drastically reduced in case of gasifier-based cookstove. Gasifier demonstrations were carried out in a rural school by our IIT Bombay’s gasifier team. Detailed results were reported in author’s PhD thesis, submitted to IIT Bombay.  


Techno-socio-economic context

The study reported that a pelletization plant size of 0.5 ton h-1 showed acceptable economics in Indian context, considering biomass availability and market. The net present value, internal rate of return, discounted payback period were ₹93.5 lakh ($0.13 million), 41% and 2.8 years, respectively. On utilization side, the pellet fed gasifier system appeared to be cost competitive with commercial LPG and wood at a pellet price range of ₹6.3-8.8 kg-1 ($90-126 ton-1) in a select scenario. The results were published in Applied Energy, Elsevier.


Sustainable bioenergy and COVID-19


The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent containment measures such as national lockdown, travel restrictions, and social distancing guidelines have significantly impacted the energy economy and bioenergy sector is no exception. Moreover, the sudden increase in the quantity of low moisture and high calorific value plastic waste (gloves, masks, disposable items etc.) can be processed and mixed with biomass feedstock to produce solid bio-fuel products such as pellets and briquettes. Social changes such as factories shutdown, massive labour migration could be the opportunities to boost rural bioenergy sector. Overall, the proposed conceptual framework could create an entrepreneurial ecosystem for better management of agricultural biomass and other wastes; and stimulate rural economy in the post COVID-19 era.