Harnessing Biomass in Rural India for Bioenergy and Livelihood creation

Jan 13, 2023

Jan 13, 2023

“Biomass needs to be seen as a resource as it can provide socio-economic benefits to the farming communities”, stated Mr. Dinesh Jagdale, Joint Secretary, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Government of India, while delivering the Keynote Address at the one-day workshop on creating a Bioenergy Digital Marketplace jointly organised by MNRE, GiZ, BiofuelCircle and BAIF Agro and Bio-Technology Pvt. Ltd. and hosted by BAIF at its head office in Pune on January 13, 2023.

There are 54 different kinds of biomass resources available in surplus in various states which can help in turning industries green while meeting the energy needs and reducing our dependency for energy supply. The digital change and connectivity taking place in the world and reaching every household in every village in the country, need to be embraced.This workshop is an opportunity to connect Farmer Producer Organisations, Entrepreneurs and Industries who can create a demand, he further expressed. 

Standardisation of biomass by the Indian Institute of Bioenergy at Kapurthala, can consolidate India’s position and leadership in the world. With its 170-odd gigawatt capacity-installed non-fossil fuels, India is almost fourth in the world in the domain of renewable energy, he further added. 2030 – the decade of action, will continue to register a rise in the use of renewable energy and bioenergy. Showcasing biomass through a digital market place by BiofuelCircle is bringing real value to rural entrepreneurs, Mr. Jagdale concluded.

“Connecting agriculture and rural India is the basis of the BiofuelCircle Model”, stated Mr. Suhas Baxi, Co-Founder and CEO, BiofuelCircle, Pune. If India has to become an energy exporting economy, it needs to harness the biomass. He listed out the reasons for the poor response towards biomass enterprise – small landholding, high cost in collecting biomass, less economic feasibility, farmers not receiving much in the supply chain and the seasonality aspect which requires storage. If industry is the buyer, small rural business is the key and hence, the model proposed, can surpass all these constraints. This model has created a briquetter-pellet manufacturer which can locate rural storages and the latter can sell biomass and bio-refineries to mining sites and industries which require biomass. 20 such biomass banks are being set up in rural Maharashtra in association with GIZ and BAIF, he added. These efforts are creating economic activity and employment in rural areas, he further added. More than 300,000 tons of biomass are available for sale and the price discovery and quality delivery are assured, he expressed.

Mr. Bharat Kakade, President and Managing Trustee, BAIF, a partner in this bioenergy digital marketplace, while welcoming the participants, stated that BAIF was a suitable agency to host such a programme and carry it forward due to its vast experience across 100,000 villages in 325 districts of 13 Indian states and helping 4 million families. He highlighted the core mission of BAIF which is to provide gainful self-employment to large sections of rural communities in their own areas thereby reducing distress migration. The major programmes of BAIF viz. Agri-horti-forestry (Wadi), Livestock development, Watershed Development and Renewable Energy are climate smart, reduce carbon footprint and create local employment opportunities. He also mentioned the Integrated Renewable Energy and Sustainable Agriculture (IRESA) programme for promoting biogas with filter to produce slurry cakes, with which either vermicompost or Bio-PROM is produced thereby replacing chemical fertilisers. In the context of emerging national and global challenges pertaining to climate change, he emphasised on the need to bring circularity in farming through an integrated approach of livestock-soil-crop-bioenergy management. There is huge potential in India for using crop residues fuel in the industrial boilers to replace conventional coal through a value chain approach. In collaboration with BiofuelCircle and with the support of GiZ, BAIF has made its foray into bioenergy production and the initial results look promising, he added.

Ms Nidhi Sarin, Programme Head, Access to Energy in Rural Areas, GIZ, stated that GIZ was happy to have appropriate partners like BiofuelCircle and BAIF and able guidance of Mr Dinesh Jagdale, Joint Secretary, MNRE, for their Bioenergy initiative. While supporting biomass-based briquette projects, GIZ had realised the demand-supply gap and disconnect of producers and consumers. This disconnect was addressed by BiofuelCircle by developing an online market place. Thereafter, GIZ, BiofuelCircle and BAIF came forward with the support of MNRE for pilot testing solutions in Maharashtra, resulting in this workshop. Biomass can be the key to meeting India’s climate targets and the new policy developed by MNRE highlighting the availability of surplus biomass, has tremendous potential for energy production, livelihood generation, income creation and empowerment of women. She highlighted the three models that may provide solutions to the challenge of crop residues namely, National Agriculture Market (e-NAM), a society-led model and the model being piloted by BAIF and BiofuelCircle which takes both demand and supply sides into consideration and can be the answer to the problem of crop residue burning. A larger meeting is in the offing for follow up and upscaling of this initiative, she further stated.

Dr. Mahesh Kadam, VAMNICON, highlighted the need to have a four-pronged approach towards capacity building focussing on production, consumption, distribution and biofuel exchange. Dr. Rajashree Joshi, Programme Director, BAIF, highlighted the emerging area of renewable and green energy in BAIF with special focus on solar, improved biogas, agri-residue-based energy options as a part of BAIF’s initiative in transitioning to a circular and climate-resilient rural economy. The demand for biomass for soil enrichment and cattle feed was also highlighted.  

Mr. Girish Sohani, Principal Adviser and Trustee, BAIF, in his concluding remarks at the inaugural session, highlighted the need to create a vibrant bio economy in rural areas using biomass-based enterprise and business development opportunities and welcomed the partnership and support from MNRE for piloting such initiatives.

Mr. Tushar Lowalekar, Founding Member and Chief Business Officer, BiofuelCircle, highlighted the significant movement towards use of biomass and bioenergy and the opportunity in the farm sector for collective participation of FPOs and farmers in this space, demand for 125 metric tons of biomass and lamented the challenges of collection, transportation and access to market which has led farmers to burn agricultural waste. He also stated that out of the registered 16,500 FPOs, only 4000 are organised and highlighted the BiofuelCircle model with its focus on participation at FPO level with aggregation, briquette making and value for rural entrepreneurs. 

Mr. Satish Chinchalkar, Adviser, BiofuelCircle and Mr. Mayur Sarode, Associate Programme Manager, BAIF provided an overview of the Unfolding green potential through agri-waste management (UGAM) project being implemented jointly by BAIF and BiofuelCircle in 11 districts of Maharashtra with the support of GIZ.     

Mr. Vikram Dhaka, Senior Scientist, MNRE, highlighted the scope of the user-friendly new Bioenergy Policy launched in November 2022 to support energy recovery from bio-resources. He also mentioned that, India has already achieved its target of 10 gigawatt installed capacity of biomass-based power generation before its deadline and expressed that the time had come to prepare for scaling up manufacturing of biomass-based briquettes.

Mr. Pradeep Bhargava, industrial management expert and Member, Advisory Board, BiofuelCircle, headed the Panel Discussions on Policy Intervention and Accelerators for Bioenergy Supply Chain. He called upon all the stakeholders to find a solution and to take the lead with an aim of socially responsible service and not social service. Mr. Sohani stated that this initiative was scalable and called for a biomass-based value chain from consumer point of view, standardization of the bands of value and quality assurance. Mr. Ashish Vaishnav, Director, Gangotree Energy Projects Pvt. Ltd., called for embedding quality circle and to develop suitable applications while keeping the environment in mind. Mr. Shrinivas Kulkarni, Director of BAIF Agro and Bio-Technology Pvt. Ltd. and Group Vice President, Finance, BAIF, emphasised on the need for government support in the form of regulations and a comprehensive framework to support the bioenergy sector. He also highlighted the importance of considering environmental challenges and alternative sources of fuel and urged stakeholders not to rely solely on government subsidies but to also take a look at the sustainable and effective model already being built by BAIF and BiofuelCircle, which will also contribute to the environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics. Mr. Sachin Kamble, DGM, NABARD, highlighted the business opportunity through FPOs in setting up a briquette plant. Dr. Mahesh Kadam, Asst. Professor, VAMNICON, reiterated the resource management through aggregation, awareness and marketing aspect and the livelihood management aspect of this enterprise.    

Mr. Srirang Chorage, Torna FPO, shared the ground experience of his FPO in biomass aggregation business. He further mentioned that the transportation cost constituted a higher proportion of the overall selling price of biomass thereby reducing the farmer and FPO profit margins. If the transportation cost could be reduced, it would definitely help this sector to grow in future, he expressed. Prof. Suvarna Gokhale, Jnana Prabodhini, expressed the need for capacity building at the grassroots. 

Mr. Hemant Mohagaonkar, Executive Vice President, Thermax, as Panel Leader for the Panel Discussions on Supply Chain Conundrum, highlighted the seasonality of biomass as a serious concern, transportation and the need to add economic value at every stage. The panelists included Mr. Vikas Mhetre, Managing Director, Shree Industries who operates a briquetting plant, Mr. Mahesh Kambli, Director – Business Development, BAIF Agro and Bio-Technology Pvt. Ltd., Mr. Ram Phalke, Director, Panand Agro and Mr. Mirick Gogri, Head, Aarti Indutries. The panelists spoke about the need to work on the ground, need to ensure economic benefits to the farmers, importance of working capital, policy support, finance and seed support apart from value stream innovation, circular economy and to provide incentives to enable farmers to earn.      

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Suhas Baxi, reiterated the need for integrating a network of organisations and individuals with thought leaders for a more vibrant circular economy and the need for value discovery and demystification of biomass. 

60 representatives from farmer producer organization companies, women farmers, NGOs, Government Organisations, industries and NABARD participated in the workshop.  BAIF has been working on this theme which is an emerging development area. In the light of climate change and circularity, BAIF has development meaningful partnerships and supports innovations which are aligned with its mission of sustainable livelihood opportunities in rural India.  The workshop has set the direction to promote local initiatives in rural India to identify underutilised bio resources and to develop suitable infrastructure to make efficient use of these neglected resources for generation of green energy at an affordable cost, additional rural employment and for keeping the rural surroundings clean.

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