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Explained: How Punjab plans to spin paddy stubble into gold

Other than biomass projects, eight projects of BIO-CNG are under execution in the state. Most of these projects will be commissioned in 2021 and 2022. These will need around 3-lakh metric tonnes of paddy stubble annually.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Updated: September 13, 2020 11:21:16 am
Workers of Biomass Power Plant storing paddy stubble at a village in Punjab (Express photo by Jasbir Malhi/Representational)

With a problem as big as stubble burning is hounding the Punjab government, a reset of priorities and out-of-the-box thinking can lead to effective solutions. One of Punjab government’s own agencies, the Punjab Energy Development Agency (PEDA) alongwith the science and the technology department, is playing a stellar role in weeding out the problem by creating alternatives for stubble utilisation. We explain how this is being done:

What is PEDA doing in this regard currently?

PEDA, a state nodal agency working towards promotion and development of renewable energy for the past three decades, has gotten set up 11 biomass power plants where 97.50 mega watts (MW) of power is generated. In these plants, 8.80 lakh metric tonnes of paddy stubble, which is less than 5 per cent of the total 20 million tonnes paddy stubble generated in Punjab, is used annually to generate power. Most of these plants are 4-18 MW and are consuming 36,000 to 1,62,000 metric tonnes stubble annually.

Two more biomass power projects with 14 MW capacity are under execution and will be commissioned from June 2021. These will also require 1.26 lakh metric tonnes paddy stubble per annum. These projects are environmentally friendly due to relatively lower CO2 and particulate emissions and displace fossil fuels such as coal.

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What are the other fields where stubble is being used or will be used by PEDA?

Other than biomass projects, eight projects of BIO-CNG are under execution in the state. Most of these projects will be commissioned in 2021 and 2022. These will need around 3-lakh metric tonnes of paddy stubble annually.

PEDA Director M P Singh said there is huge scope for utilising paddy stubble in Punjab under the ‘start-up’ concept. “We are going to set up India’s largest CNG project, which will produce 8,000 m cube biogas per day (equivalent to 33.23 tonnes of bio CNG per day). The project is under execution at Lehragaga tehsil in Sangrur district,” said Singh, adding that the project is expected to be commissioned by March 2021 as the machinery is in transit from Germany. This single project will require 1.10 lakh metric tonnes of paddy straw per annum.

A Bioethanol project of 100 KL (kilo litre) — which will require 2 lakh metric tonnes of paddy stubble annually — located at Talwandi Sabo in Bathinda is currently at a standstill as it has been held up by HPCL due to technical issues with the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), Mumbai.

After commissioning of all these projects, Punjab will be able to utilise 1.5 million tonnes (7 per cent of the total) paddy stubble.

Experts say ethanol can be used to run vehicles after blending with diesel and petrol.

“If even half of the vehicles in Punjab are run on ethanol-based fuel, paddy stubble, which is considered as a curse today, will be a blessing tomorrow. We need to change the perspective to get positive things from stubble,” said Singh, adding that even in the ply and paint industries, there is huge scope of stubble utilisation.

Don’t miss from Explained | Are 74,000 subsidised stubble management machines enough for Punjab?

What are the benefits of a paddy straw-based industry?

Farmers can benefit hugely if they can sell paddy stubble to the industry instead of burning it. Apart from this there are also environment benefits; fertile soil will be saved from burning every year in which a huge amount of organic matter also gets burnt, said experts. Experts in PEDA said that educated unemployed youth in rural Punjab where such projects will be set up can get big job opportunities.

What is the need of the hour?

“Current usage of stubble in these plants is very small compared to the generation of stubble. Punjab needs varieties of stubble-based industry here where more and more stubble is required,” said another PEDA official.

PEDA officials said that it is not just big businessmen and NRIs who should be encouraged to set up paddy stubble-based industry in Punjab. The youth, particularly engineers, graduates in science and technology can start such projects under the ‘start-up’ concept, which will create entrepreneurship among them and the government must help them by getting sanctioned loans and providing a market, for which there is plenty of scope.

“Punjab is a blessed state and a big revolution can be brought about here, with the availability of a huge amount of raw material — paddy stubble,” said an official in the science and technology department.

Experts said joint efforts are required on the part of the state, Centre and industries, including public and private participation, to convert all of Punjab’s stubble into farmers’ income. “There are around 13,000 villages and nearly 150 block states in Punjab and stubble-based projects can be set up at the block-level to manage stubble of that block,” said an expert.

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