Biomass Co-Firing

Why in News?

  • Due to unavailability of Biomass Pellets of agricultural residues the implementation of the Ministry of Powers’ direction to Co-Fire biomass with coal in thermal power plants is slowing down.
  • While presenting the Union Budget in February 2022, the Ministry of Power, mandated 05-10 % co-firing at every thermal power plant in the country.
  • Biomass Pellets are a popular type of biomass fuel, usually made from wood wastes, agricultural biomass, commercial grasses and forestry residues.

What is Biomass co-firing?

  • Biomass co-firing is the practice of substituting a part of the fuel with biomass at coal thermal plants. Coal and biomass are combusted together in boilers that have been designed to burn coal. For this purpose, the existing coal power plant has to be partly reconstructed and retrofitted.
  • Co-firing is an alternative to convert biomass to electricity, in an efficient and clean way, and to bring down GHG (Green house Gases) emissions of the power plant.
  • Biomass co-firing is a worldwide accepted cost-effective method for decarbonising a coal fleet.
  • India is a country where biomass is generally burnt on the field which shows apathy towards resolving the problem of clean coal using a very simple solution that is easily available.
  • Significance-
  • Biomass co-firing is an effective way to control emissions from open burning of crop residue, it also de-carbonises the process of electricity generation using coal.
  • Substituting 5-7 % of coal with biomass in coal-based power plants can save about 38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
  • It can help cut emissions from combustion of fossil fuels, address India’s rapidly increasing problem of farm stubble burning to some extent, lessen waste burden while also generating jobs in rural areas.
  • India has large biomass availability and rapid growth in coal-fired capacity.

Challenges faced in Biomass co-firing in India-

  • Low Pellet manufacturing capacity– Presently India’s pellet manufacturing capacity is nearly 7,000 tonnes per day despite a surplus of 228 million tonnes of agricultural residue available in the country.
  • Higher price in the open market– Pellet suppliers prefer to sell their product to industries like food processing, textile, metal-based or in the open market at higher prices.
  • Seasonal availability and irregular supply of biomass pellets.
  • Increased demand from industries in NCR– Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) in National Capital Region and adjacent Areas directed industries in Delhi-National Capital Region to switch to cleaner fuels by end of September 2022. Hence, the Biomass demand from industries increased.
  • Challenges in biomass pellet storage– Only pellets with up to 14% moisture can be used for combustion together with coal. Storing biomass pellets for long durations at the plant sites is not easy, since they absorb moisture from air rapidly, rendering them useless for co-firing.

Steps taken to improve Biomass co-firing-

  • As per the ‘National Mission on use of biomass for coal thermal power plants’ establish by the Union power ministry, about 95,000-96,000 tonnes of biomass pellets are required per day for co-firing.
  • National Mission on use of Biomass in coal-based thermal power plants, also known as SAMARTH (Sustainable Agrarian Mission on use of Agro-residue in Thermal Power Plants) has shared a list of 70-80 pellet manufacturers with the power plants.
  • To reinforce and regulate the supply chain, the manufacturers were also asked to be registered under SAMARTH.
  • National Power Training Institute has been conducting the training for pellet manufacturers all over the country.

Way Forward-

  • Platforms need to be set up to ensure farmers have an intrinsic role in this business model of pellet manufacturing and co-firing in power plants.
  • To exploit co-firing potential without adverse environmental impact, emerging economies require technology and policy preparation.
  • Sustainability indicators for bio-energy, involving protection of soil and water resources, biodiversity, land allocation and tenure, and food prices, need to be incorporated into policy measures.

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