“The gas pressure is just as much as from an LPG cylinder. And the flame is so blue,” remarks Surjeet Kaur, pointing to the stove and burner while making tea at her small kitchen. The 60-year-old’s source of pride is that the stove is being powered not by liquefied petroleum, but ‘gobar gas’ from a plant hardly a kilometre away.
“(Prime Minister) Narendra Modi has talked of converting gobar (cattle dung) into cooking gas and launching a national Gobar-Dhan scheme in his latest Mann Ki Baat radio talk. But we have been running entirely on gobar gas for over one-and-a-half years,” notes Surjeet, whose family farms 1.5 acres, apart from owning three milking cows and a young calf, at Lambra village in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district.
“We no longer have to book LPG cylinders and wait for their delivery. Our cooking cost, too, is down by over half. And the gas is clean; there’s no smell at all. The gobar gas plant has, in fact, ended our problem of disposing of the dung from our animals”, states Amandeep Kaur, a 19-year-old who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree at the Government College in Hoshiarpur.
Gurdeep Kaur, who is in her mid-twenties and has been living in Lambra for over a year after getting married here, claims she keeps a spare LPG cylinder just in case. “I hardly use it, as there is continuous supply of gobar gas from 4 am till 10 at night. It is like regular gas. You just have to ignite the burner and start cooking, while paying the bill at the month-end,” she says.
For Kashmir Kaur, the centralised biogas plant at Lambra not only provides cooking fuel that is much cheaper than LPG, but also enables easy disposal of the dung from her two buffaloes, five cows and one small calf. “My animals generate 2-2.5 quintals (200-250 kg) of gobar daily. Managing all this was a real headache, but now the plant people collect gobar from my doorstep and even pay a rate of Rs 8 per quintal. Besides, they supply my entire gas requirement. My monthly bill of around Rs 300 (at Rs 6 per cubic metre, or m3, for 50 m3 of consumption) is actually less than the Rs 500 or so worth of gobar that I supply,” she points out.
These women are among 44 households, out of Lambra’s 300-odd, that are currently getting metered biogas supply to their kitchens from the 100 m3 capacity plant, commissioned in June 2016 at a cost of Rs 32 lakh. All the 44 families have practically stopped using LPG cylinders. “I have been trying to get a biogas connection, but the plant people tell me that they cannot service beyond the existing consumers. The ones with connections are lucky, as their monthly gas bill is only Rs 200-300. I use one LPG cylinder every month and it costs Rs 780,” complains Inderjit Kaur, who is one of the village’s many who feels left out.
The brain behind the biogas plant — which can process about 2,500 kg of dung daily — is Jaswinder Singh, a 32-year-old MCA (Master of Computer Applications) and cooperative management diploma holder, who is also a resident of Lambra. The idea of setting up a centralised community-level biogas plant he got while visiting South Korea, on a group study tour sponsored by the Punjab government and the National Cooperative Union of India.
“I saw the way waste was managed there, which was a contrast to how dung was being littered around my village and even clogging our drains. On my return, I approached the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana. They, and also the Punjab Pollution Control Board Chairman K S Pannu, were very helpful. The 100 m3 biogas plant was set up with the PAU’s technical assistance,” informs Singh, who initially sought government funding, but could only manage a Rs 2-lakh grant from the Union Ministry of New & Renewable Energy. The remaining Rs 30 lakh project cost was borne by the Lambra Kangri Multipurpose Cooperative Service Society. Singh’s father is the secretary of this cooperative, which has some Rs 22 crore of deposits from its 1,800 member-account holders. The 200 square yards of land on which the plant came up also belonged to the society.
The society-run plant now collects dung from house to house in a tractor-driven trolley having two bins and a weighing machine. The dung supplied is first weighed before being loaded on to the bins, which open and unload the material from below at the plant’s gobar feeding point. The plant also has a 25-feet deep pit, where the raw dung is mixed with water using an 8-horsepower machine. The mixed dung gets decomposed in a bio-digester and the resultant biogas produced is, then, captured and conveyed through underground pipes till about 600 metres. From there, it is further carried via 100 poles and over-ground pipes for supplying to individual homes within a 2-km radius. There are gas-reading metres in each of these consuming homes.
The biogas plant also has a separate pit for collection of slurry from the mixing of dung and water. This bio-digested slurry is sold at Rs 800 per 5,000-litre tanker, with those supplying dung to the plant getting it at Rs 600. “The 2,500 kg of gobar collected daily is giving us 100 m3 of biogas and 3,600 litres of slurry, while using around 1,000 litres of water for mixing. The slurry is a natural manure and in great demand,” explains Singh. The biogas is being sold at Rs 10 per m3 for up to 10 units of consumption per month, while Rs 8 for between 10 and 20 units, and Rs 6 for above 20 units. Each household gets a daily SMS message on the value of dung supplied by it. Any amount in excess or below the value of the gas consumed is deposited into or debited from their bank account with the Lambra Kangri society. An average family’s consumption is 1.5-2 m3 daily.
Singh wants to put up a bigger biogas plant to cater to the whole of Lambra and also the three other villages — Beron Kangri, Baggewal and Dadiana Kalan — that are part of the cooperative society. The four villages together house 630 families. The existing plant is already supplying gas free of cost for the mid-day meals of 130 students at Lambra’s government senior secondary school.
In his Sunday Mann Ki Baat address, PM Modi had pointed to the potential bio-energy conversion opportunity from the estimated 3 million tonnes of dung generated by India’s 300 million bovine population. However, Ranjit Singh, a gas consumer-cum-dung supplier to the Lambra plant, isn’t fully convinced. “A milking cow consumes Rs 180-200 worth of green and dry fodder daily, while it is Rs 110-120 for non-milking animals. A fully-grown animal gives 35-40 kg gobar daily and even a rate of Rs 10 per quintal will barely cover 5 per cent of fodder cost. Once a cow has stopped giving milk, you cannot rear it just for gobar sales,” opines this farmer.