Best out of Waste

Pune-based Priyadarshini Karve's double inventions revolutionise rural waste management and cooking methods.

Written by Debjani Paul | Published: April 1, 2013 1:01:31 am

Pune-based Priyadarshini Karve’s double inventions revolutionise rural waste management and cooking methods.

Priyadarshini Karve’s childhood passed in a simple and idyllic setting,surrounded by the swaying plume of leaves over fields of tall and healthy sugarcane. The passage of time was marked by the seasons of sowing and harvesting in her hometown Phaltan in Satara district. It was what happened after the harvest though,that made a mark in Karve’s mind forever. The sugarcane leaves,with no commercial value of their own,were burned off to clear the fields.

Today,41-year-old Karve is far removed from her childhood days of sugarcane fields. But,it could possibly be this very memory that spurred her to develop a kiln that would convert agricultural waste — like the sugarcane leaves — into bio-fuel. Using a simple system,leaf litter from fields or from urban spaces such as parks,are converted to eco-friendly charcoal,which can then be used to cook. “There are two advantages to this. One,you are finding a use for all the waste or biomass from the agricultural fields in the country. Two,this renewable form of charcoal replaces the traditional wood charcoal and several trees are saved from being cut down,” says Karve,a resident of Kothrud.

But the kiln is only half of her project to develop efficient cooking methods for the rural population. With a grant from the ministry of science and technology,Karve and her team have also developed the Sarai cooking system – a cooker that can cook three items at a time,using only 100 gms of charcoal. “So at a time,you can cook dal,rice and vegetables and use very little charcoal. You can use wood charcoal or the renewable charcoal from the kiln. Because the amount of charcoal used is so less,and the cooker’s design is such,there is barely any smoke from cooking with this system,” Karve explains. As the great grand daughter of Maharshi Dhondo Karve,she hails from a family that has set up several social institutions and has been involved in social work for generations. Her inventions have been recognised by a slew of environmental awards,such as the London-based Ashden award,and the most recent Pune’s Pride award in March.

The cooker is currently being used in villages scattered across Maharashtra,the Konkan belt and Uttaranchal,as well as a few countries in Africa. The invention,originally intended for the rural population,has also found takers amongst more affluent classes in Germany,where it is marketed as a camping stove,and closer home in Pune,where thousands of well-to-do families have also adopted the cooker in an attempt to combat the spiraling LPG prices. The Sarai system is relatively cheaper,with the cooker costing Rs 1500,while one kg of the renewable charcoal costs Rs 30.

That’s not the only advantage Karve sees. “Ultimately,LPG is a fossil fuel too,and it has its own carbon footprint,but the Sarai system with renewable charcoal has zero footprint,” she says. About 800 million tonnes of agricultural waste is generated in India every year. She estimates that if the agri-waste and municipal waste from urban areas were to be treated using such methods,each town and village would be able to produce and meet at least 50 per cent of its fuel needs in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner.

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