There have been two recent incidents in the past few months that may have escaped our notice but can provide our economy with a sense of direction. The first is the occurrence of heavy fog in the national capital. This was largely blamed on the burning of agriculture waste by farmers in far-flung Punjab and thermal power plants. They are facing a shortage of coal and were asked to mix this waste with coal to deal with the pollutants, as well as create an effective industrial substitute. The second is the introduction of bio-aviation fuel, with an airline becoming the first to fly its plane using bio-aviation fuel instead of petroleum-based fuel. This move will save foreign exchequer. More importantly, both these developments will play a major role in the economy.
The Indian economy is expected to have five trillion dollars by 2025 and with the fast changing scenario in energy and environment research and development, it is expected that 100 billion dollars, which is roughly 2% would be from bio- conomy alone. This would make the country second only to China in its use of bio-economy.
The question that arises is what exactly is bio-economy?
Bio-economy revolves around bio-technology, renewable energy, and integration of these components across all user spectrums. From its limited uses as bio-pharmacy, it is now fast replacing energy economics, health economics, and environment economics to become the most viable sustainable option for economic growth.
The main drivers of bio-economy are increasing population, growing energy demands, and the public awareness to reuse waste and thus reduce environmental harm as much as possible. The energy consumption of this country is now touching new heights as we envisage that by 2030, per capital energy would be 3000 units as against present 1100 units. This would mean a triple load in our consumption within a little over a decade. It is estimated that biomass, municipal solid waste, and energy plantations would be the major consumers of energy. For instance, until very recently, municipal solid waste conversion did not attract any incentive, whereas all urban areas have been promoting the reuse of waste in all forms for some time now. It is estimated that
the waste to energy potential is 1700 mw from MSW, 225 Mw from domestic sewage, 1300 mw from Industrial waste and that these waste itself contributes 4000 mw. This is besides agricultural waste of 2200 mw, i.e., roughly 10% of our domestic consumption. Reuse of this waste besides being environment friendly will also help us convert deadly methane CH4 to be converted CO2 which is 23 times less harmful for the environment.
Bio-economy means that products with known environmental toxicity can be replaced by more sustainable substitutes. There is already substantial research on plastic which is one of the most dangerous and commonly used industrial substances. With the new ban in place on polymer plastics across multiple states in the country, it is expected that bio plastic will emerge as a viable alternative. The present global production of bio-plastic is 5 million tonnes and India is expected to be major contributor in the production and use of bio-plastics.
There is also a need to consider sources of bioenergy such as plantations that provide energy resources. Napier grass and elephant grass, for example, besides providing better cattle feed are also good alternatives to depleting fossil fuels. It is also economically more viable as the expenditure forpreparing one ton of 3000 CV based energy planation is Rs. 1400 and whereas to produce the same amount of energy using coal, the cost is around Rs. 4000 per mt. India with a vast tract of non- utilizable land can play an important role in limiting the use of imported coal and instead promote the use of plantations and biodegradable material as fuel sources. Besides the use of power plants, bio fuels like
Ethanol, compost, thermal power and bio-hydrogen are the segments where these principles of sustainable energy would be used prominently.
Thus, bio-economy is expected to grow significantly in the fields of bio-gas production, power generation, bio-plastics and for use in transportation sector. It is estimated that for each One MW power produced from bio- mass around 80 direct and indirect employment opportunities are generated. Considering that it is potentially a 100 billion economy with 8% growth, bio-economy is bound to generate mass employment and customers in the near future.
— The writer is Secretary General of Indian Bio Mass Association and an Advisor to India Power.