Sunday, 16 September, 2012

Biogas from azolla biomass – the ultimate energy solution

For centuries, rice farmers in China & Vietnam have been using azolla as a green manure in their wetland fields. The aquatic fern fixes nitrogen directly from the atmosphere (with the help of blue-green algae called Anabaena azollae which lives symbiotically in the leaf cavities of the floating plant) and nourishes the fields. The protein content of azolla is about 20-30% of dry weight making it a good feed supplement for cattle, poultry & fish. The tiny plants are used to purify and recover nutrients from waste water. Azolla requires zero agricultural land and less water compared to terrestrial crops.

Recent studies show that azolla can generate biomass upto165 ton/hectare/year dry matter which is many times higher that can be achieved in the case of popular energy crops and azolla biomass yields high amounts of methane (480 l/kg) - which is equivalent to natural gas,  besides giving us speciality chemicals, jet fuel and bioplastic. 

Sunday, 2 September, 2012

Biogas – not just cow power - it is renewable natural gas

Many of us consider biogas as just gobar gas or poo power. We can extract many times more energy from other biodegradable wastes than that from cow dung. For example, 1 kg of food waste when decomposed in an anaerobic environment yields 160 litres of biogas whereas non-edible oil seed cake produces 242 litres and bagasse gives 330 litres in the place of 40 litres of cooking gas with same weight of cow dung under similar conditions.

Biogas has vast potential as a sustainable renewable energy source.  Biogas is poised to lead the biofuel race owing to its advantages over the others.  When other biofuels require specific energy crops which may seize food crops or agricultural land, biogas can be generated from different biomass available – municipal waste being the most attractive option. After producing biogas, the anaerobic bacteria provide us a very good fertilizer whereas some other biofuel generation processes discharge toxic wastes. Utilisation of agricultural & other wastes as a resource and the value of the bio-fertiliser are significant for a country whose economy is depended on agriculture. Moreover, the energy content of biogas is higher than that of other biofuels extracted from biomass grown on a unit area. Some studies show that the average ethanol production from cereals and sugar cane crops is 2,400 litre of oil equivalent per hectare. Under the same conditions biogas delivers 4,500 litre of oil equivalent.  

Biogas consists mainly of methane along with carbon-dioxide and hydrogen-sulphide.  Purified biogas or biomethane being very similar to natural gas, it can be mixed with or substituted for the latter (called bio Natural Gas) in vehicles or other applications. In other words, biomethane can directly utilize the natural gas infrastructure.  In countries like Germany, biomethane is already being injected into their natural gas grids.
Biomethane is the cleanest fuel after hydrogen produced from water using solar or wind power.  Hydrogen to be used in fuel cells can be produced from methane also. But the recent technological developments allow the direct use natural gas or biomethane in the fuel cells with reduced cost of operation. Fuel cells, being more energy efficient, reliable and less polluting than other electricity generation methods, can be used in distributed power generation or in vehicles.

The transmission loss, cost of energy storage and transmission are very less for biomethane even compared to electricity as a long distance energy carrier.  The cost of building up natural gas/biomethane pipelines is said to be half that required to build electric transmission lines for the same quantity of energy transmitted. Biogas production at source of biomass will be convenient rather than transporting the biomass elsewhere for generating electricity. Besides all these, if waste heat from decentralised power generators can also be used, we could utilise up to 85% energy of the source compared to 30% energy reaching the users in the case of coal based power plants.

It is projected that by 2050 global primary energy demand will be 1014 EJ (Exa Joules) whereas the total biomass alone has an energy potential of 1,135 EJ without affecting food production.  Sweden is already using biogas to meet 25% of its energy requirement with majority being used for heating and as vehicle fuel including that for trains.

Our tropical climate is favourable for the bacteria in anaerobic decomposition of biomass and for the growth of energy crops or other biomass. Governments should create a natural gas infrastructure and promote biogas on a big way.  Even if they are not interested in helping the common man, it can bring about reduction in imports of petroleum (for fuel and fertiliser) to save the ‘poor’ oil marketing companies from their ‘under recoveries burden’.

Wednesday, 22 August, 2012

Give a man a LPG cylinder and you provide him gas for a month. Give a man a biogas plant and you provide him cooking gas for a lifetime.

Give a man a LPG cylinder (with subsidy) and you provide him gas for a month. Give a man a biogas plant and you provide him cooking gas for a lifetime.

We have been hearing for quite some time about the Government of India’s desire to cut down LPG subsidy. If they are sincere enough in reducing people’s burden, Government should promote extensively the use of biogas generated from degradable wastes. Attractive subsidy may be given (one time, rather than giving subsidy for each LPG cylinder) for installing domestic biogas plant. Households can save at least half of the LPG by using biogas from the respective household kitchen waste alone.

Families depending solely on LPG for cooking who may be using a cylinder (14.2kg) a month can extend the cylinder usage for another month if the biogas is also utilised, which means that the investment on biogas will be paid back in a few years.  If your biogas plant allows other feedstock also, you may put non-edible oil cakes, agricultural wastes and even aquatic plants to generate more cooking gas.

A domestic biogas system of 1cu.m capacity from BIOTECH, Trivandrum costed me about Rs.13,500 (after subsidy from MNRE) which is sufficient for a small family. If the Government can subsidise the biogas plants to such an extent that it is attractive for all households, it will be beneficial for the country in many ways. The main benefits are as follows.

• Can reduce the demand for LPG – saves fossil fuel, reduces dependence on imported petroleum thereby saving foreign exchange.

• Better solution for disposal of kitchen waste without stench – better environment, reduces the burden of Municipalities / Corporations in the waste movement and processing.

• The slurry produced by the biogas plants is known to be good fertiliser – better for agriculture also. Good medium for growing aquatic plants like azolla and duckweed.

• Utilisation of clean energy from methane which might otherwise be lost.

Awareness should be created among the public on the economical and other benefits of domestic biogas plants.

Sunday, 8 July, 2012

Super plants – a solution to food-water-energy shortage

According to some U.N. estimates, by 2030, a rapidly growing population in the world will need at least 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more water. Small aquatic plants are promising a way out in this context.

Tiny water plants like duckweed and azolla are characterised by their tremendous growth. Under favourable conditions, they can double their mass in 1-3 days absorbing carbon dioxide from air through photosynthesis. These little plants can fix the greenhouse gas far better than other plants besides offering solutions to many other burning issues. Some 49 million years ago, azolla is believed to have reversed the greenhouse effect which is known as the azolla event.

Growing them

Various species of duckweed and azolla can be grown in shallow ponds or even in trays with water height less than 10cm or 4inch. These free-floating plants do not require full sunlight, a 50% shade is necessary for their optimum growth. Places getting heavy sunlight allow growing them in between other crops or on multileveled trays/channels with top level for drying harvested plants. The diluted slurry from biogas digesters is found to be a good medium for their growth.  Vivekananda Kendra-Natural Resources Development Project (VK- NARDEP) in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu promotes growing of azolla on silpauline lined pits in the backyards or terraces to reduce the production cost of the small plant to less than 30paise per kg harvested.
azolla & duckweed
Azolla & duckweed

Duckweeds grow by taking up nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus & potassium from water and some of their species can tolerate salinity to an extent.  Azolla can fix nitrogen directly from the atmosphere with the help of blue-green algae called Anabaena azollae, which lives symbiotically in the leaf cavities of the fern plant. These little plants can rejuvenate biologically dead water bodies.

Azolla in agriculture

Rice farmers in China and Vietnam have been using azolla for centuries in their wetland fields. Azolla is allowed to grow on rice fields before the rice plants are transplanted. Azolla forms a thick mat over the water surface making it difficult for weeds and mosquitos to grow. Studies by Tamil Nadu Agricultural University shows that azolla can contribute, besides other nutrients, 40-60 kg N/ha per rice crop. Use of urea/nitrogen fertiliser and other fertilisers can be reduced if azolla is used as bio-fertiliser. Azolla has been used as green manure for other crops also. Because they are grown locally, it reduces the use of petroleum products otherwise needed for the processing & transportation of fertilisers giving savings to the nation.

As a feed

Duckweed and azolla contains about 30% protein on dry weight basis. They can produce more than 9 tonnes of protein per hectare per year. Farmers around the world use them as a feed supplement for cattle, poultry and fish.

Trials carried out by the VK- NARDEP, with azolla as a feed supplement for diary animals, shows an increase of milk yield when azolla was combined with regular feed and shows that azolla feeding improves the quality of milk and the health & longevity of livestock.

Poultry and fish supplemented with azolla or duckweed were also reported to have reduced the cost of feeds and at the same time shown increased productivity for the farmers.  Besides providing healthy food through its use in agriculture, they being rich in proteins, essential amino acids, vitamins & minerals, the small plants themselves are healthy and nutritious food for humans.

In water purification

Various aquatic plants, mainly duckweed, have been used for treating domestic and industrial wastewaters. These plants grow by absorbing the impurities in the wastewater, thereby enabling us to recover the nutrients from the wastewater and allow reuse of the precious resource. Punjab State Council for Science & Technology is one of the promoters for the duckweed based wastewater treatment system in India.

Biomass to energy

Dwindling petroleum reserves have prompted us to search for alternative sources of energy and biomass is one of the promising routes to the future energy utilisation. Lot of money is being spent on the research to bring out biofuels from biomass.  Some of the edible crops such as soybean and corn were diverted for use in biofuel extraction, which resulted in the rise of food prices. Even larger aquatic plants like water hyacinth are now considered as a resource and not as a menace, owing to their biomass potential. According to VK- NARDEP, the biomass yield of Azolla is 1000 MT/ hectare/year. On controlled environments with extended day light (using artificial lighting), with increased carbon dioxide presence and optimal nutrient availability in water we could achieve more biomass yield.

Biogas, which consists mainly of methane, can be generated easily from biomass using simple household biogas plants or using sophisticated plants that can convert any organic waste to pure methane and that can release it into a pipelined grid or bottled similar to LPG. Diluted slurry from biogas plants may be used for growing these water plants which make a closed loop of growth and utilisation of these aquatic plants. Biogas will help the houses, restaurants & canteens to reduce the use of costly LPG when cooking. Scientists foresee the future of renewable energy in bio-methane because it is equivalent to natural gas.

Pacific Domes, an US company, grows duckweed along with fish and vegetables in ponds covered with domes maintaining consistent natural sunlight. Duckweeds are hand harvested, dried and fed into generator. A 24 foot dome placed in the backyard is sufficient to generate optimally 5kW electricity (along with 4-7 kg of food daily) at the same price as coal which is significantly cheaper than renewable sources like wind or solar. Carbon dioxide generated in the process here is offset by the growth of duckweed. They also claim that a 60 foot commercial unit optimally generates about 200 kilowatts of electricity besides purifying about 20,000 litres of grey-water per day. With multiple commercial units, it could be possible to generate many Giga Watts of power from the area occupied by typical thermal, hydro or nuclear power stations as they occupy thousands of hectares.

To summarise, the tiny plants can be seen as a
* cheap substitute for imported chemical fertilisers which also gives higher crop yields
* solution to reduce cost of feed for cattle, poultry & fish along with increased productivity
* healthy food for humans
* key for decreasing water pollution and recovery of nutrients from waste water
* carbon neutral renewable energy source, an alternative to the petroleum products.

In other words, the super plants can reduce the cost and increase the availability of food, water & fuels. Governments shall promote the use of the ‘green gold’ by providing kits and training to the farmers, housewives & the unemployed and shall make sure that no land is left uncultivated. Decentralised units for generating electricity or biogas may be setup for utilising excess biomass grown by farmers or wastewater treatment systems. 

Tuesday, 18 October, 2011

Forget petrol & LPG, duckweed is here as the silverbullet

At a time when availability of petroleum, cost & environmental issues of various energy sources are haunting the mankind, duckweed comes as a great solution. Duckweed is the family of smallest flowering plants which are found floating on ponds and still waters all over the world. The capability of duckweeds, to multiply and double its mass in less than a day, is the promising factor that everyone is interested in. It grows better on waste water. Also duckweeds give many times more protein yield per hectare compared to other biomass/biofuel producing plants.

Duckweeds are being used
• As feed for cattle, poultry, fish, etc. Even humans eat duckweed in some places like Thailand.
• For cleaning grey water. Recovery of nutrients and treatment of municipal wastewaters done in India and other countries using duckweeds.

Advantages of using duckweed as energy source
• Can be used to generate methane gas or can be burned (Heating value comparable with coal).
• Very less transportation cost, if grown onsite.
• Zero pollution – pollutants during burning (directly or methane produced) are absorbed back during their growth.
• Can produce energy on demand (Don’t require expensive storage devices unlike renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy).
• Very less energy required to ‘harvest’ duckweed compared to fast growing algae.
• Don’t require sophisticated technology to generate methane gas or electricity.
(Scientists foresee the future of renewable energy in bio-methane as it is equivalent to natural gas.)

• Edible crops like soybean and corn can be spared from using it for creating biofuel.

And finally Pacific Domes proves that it is practically possible.

Make electricity from duckweed“An Ashland company has teamed up with an East Coast engineer who has figured out how to generate cheap, clean electricity from a plant all too familiar to people who frequent the Lithia Park ponds — duckweed — and then use exhaust from the generator to grow more duckweed.
Pacific Domes of Ashland, a global marketer of geodesic domes, is now selling BioEnergy Domes developed by Rudy Behrens, an aerospace engineer whose patented system is capable of producing a megawatt of electricity for the same price as coal or nuclear energy — and significantly cheaper than wind or solar. The systems are green, sustainable, and can be either small enough for a single home or large enough for a municipal utility.”

If somebody can grow the energy source cheaper in the climatic conditions prevailing in the US, any takers for this in tropical countries where sunlight and climatic conditions are favourable for duckweed?

Sunday, 7 March, 2010

Getting relief from plastic wastes

Finance minister has allocated Rs.10 crore in Kerala to convert plastic wastes into pellets.

From his latest budget speech:
"Plastic waste has become a major threat to the environment and to cleanliness. Plastic ban has not been effective. It is proposed to set up small scale units in all Block Panchayats and Municipalities to convert plastic waste into pellets. Rs.10 crore required for this purpose would be met by Suchitwa Mission and Kudumbasree. It is expected that each unit would provide employment to 10 to 15 women."

My previous posts on plastic reuse:

Ban plastics and 'live happily thereafter'?
Reusing waste plastics as fuel

Sunday, 15 June, 2008

Oil price rise for the good?

Oil price rise should be a reminder that we cannot continue to use petroleum products lavishly. Under the current rate of petroleum usage, the world reserves shall last for about 30 years only.

What is the solution?

Reduce the usage of petroleum products to the least possible. More emphasis should be given to explore renewable energy sources and should encourage more people to use non conventional energy sources. There will be international pressure to cut oil subsidies because of the subsidised oil prices in developing countries like China & India, the demand for petroleum is rapidly increasing. So better we act soon to utilise renewable energy sources.

How to reduce petroleum usage?

* Improve public transport system by introducing mass rapid transit systems and discouraging use of private vehicles.

* Reduce congestion on roads - maintain wider roads and good road surfaces.

* Use alternative sources of energy wherever petroleum products are used.

Biofuel is the buzzword now for renewable energy which can replace petroleum products. Biodiesel and ethanol can be mixed with existing fuels in vehicles and oil companies are promoting them to sustain their business further, whereas biogas or bio methane is found to be the cleanest among biofuels – considering the energy requirements (thereby pollution) for extracting the fuel from various sources.

Biogas – three birds in one shot

Biogas or bio-methane is produced through the anaerobic decomposition of organic materials by certain bacteria. A wide range of materials can be used as feedstock in biogas plants like municipal solid wastes & waste water, cellulose materials like parts of green plants (including aquatic weeds water hyacinth & duckweed), non edible oil cakes, starchy kitchen wastes, human & animal wastes, etc.

By reusing the wastes generated by people as an energy source, we will be saving a lot of resources and at the same time solving the menace of processing those wastes. Another added advantage is that we will able to reduce the green house gas emissions by trapping the biogas which would otherwise be lost from landfills. We can sell the carbon credits earned this way to companies who want to lower their carbon footprint.

Plastic wastes can also be reused as fuel. Plastics, being derived from petroleum, have the energy content similar to petroleum fuels and it also a good opportunity which can be explored.

Governments should ensure that the dependence on petroleum imports is at the minimum, by promoting renewable energy sources (not just for electricity generation) to the maximum extend. The people should be advised on the benefits to the current and future generations by using alternate sources.

Tuesday, 13 May, 2008

Biofuel: Duckweed Vs Soybean

Soybean and other edible crop produce being diverted to bio fuel projects are of great concern for the people around the world as the food prices are rocketing. In this context, it will be worth considering different species of weeds commonly called duckweeds, as they show great potential in this regard as replacement for soybean.

Duckweeds are small, fragile, free floating aquatic plants that grow ubiquitously on fresh or polluted water throughout the world. When conditions are ideal, it’s biomass can double every 1-2 days. The diluted slurry from biogas digesters was found to be a good medium for the growth of duckweed. Duckweeds were also being used by some farmers as a protein rich food supplement for cattle, poultry and fish. In aquaculture, it can assist in controlling the algae growth, which denies oxygen for fishes. Duckweed is eaten by people also, mainly in Thailand. Some of their species are being used for medicine is countries like China.

Advantages of duckweed compared to soybean

* Duckweeds are as good as or better than soybean as cattle, poultry, aquaculture feed.

* Duckweeds give many times more protein yield per hectare compared to soybean.

* Duckweed protein has higher concentrations of the essential amino acids, lysine and methionine, than most plant proteins and more closely resembles animal protein in that respect.

* Duckweeds can be grown in wastewater and can be harvested daily.

Another important use for duckweed is in waste processing. Duckweeds are being used in water treatment plants as they have the potential to purify both domestic and industrial wastewater that too at minimal cost of operation. They also help in recovering mineral nutrients which would otherwise be lost with the wastewater.

There is widespread research interest on generating bio-fuels from duckweeds. We have made advances in production of biogas from aquatic plants like water hyacinth and duckweeds can be easily harvested compared to algae or other aquatic plants. Until better techniques are developed for generating ethanol or biodiesel from duckweeds, generating biogas from duckweed will be the attractive utilisation (in fact biogas is being used in buses, cars and trains in Linköping, Sweden)

So I am envisioning decentralised waste treatment plants in which wastes (organic wastes & wastewater) are being fed into a biogas plant where the wastes are subjected to anaerobic decomposition resulting in odour free, germ free slurry plus of course methane gas. This slurry shall be fed to ponds where duckweeds are grown may be along with fish. Duckweeds should be harvested daily from the pond and shall be fed into biogas plant after pre-treatment.


Picture from

Tuesday, 5 February, 2008

Why not Biogas with LPG?

LPG shortage is bothering all the LPG consumers these days. Biogas systems using kitchen wastes can supplement the LPG in our households leading to the saving of at least half of LPG consumed. Families depending on LPG alone who may use a cylinder (14.2kg) a month can extend the cylinder usage for another month if the biogas is also utilised, which means that the investment on biogas can be paid back in about 3 years considering the subsidies also. If we add other feedstock like non-edible oil cakes along with kitchen waste we will get more biogas.

A domestic biogas system will cost about Rs.9,000 for a medium size family. If the Government can subsidise the biogas plants to such an extend that it is attractive for all households, it will be beneficial for the country in many ways. It may be noted that the Government is spending Rs.311 per cylinder as subsidy (The Hindu Feb 5, 2008) for domestic consumers. The various benefits are as follows.

• Can reduce the demand for LPG – saves fossil fuel, reduces dependence on imported petroleum thereby saving foreign exchange.

• Better solution for disposal of kitchen waste without stench – better environment, reduces the burden on the waste processing by Municipalities / Corporations.

• The slurry produced by the biogas plants is known to be good fertiliser – better for agriculture also.

• Utilisation of clean energy which might otherwise be lost.

Awareness should be created among the public on the economical and other benefits of domestic biogas plants.

Read also:

ARTI Biogas Plant: A compact digester for producing biogas from food waste
The Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy | 2007 International Finalist: BIOTECH, India

Wednesday, 2 January, 2008

My Blog in Malayalam

I have created a new blog in Malayalam

Please visit and comment.

Tuesday, 18 September, 2007

Facts and quotes on India

Positive facts (present & past) and quotes by renowned persons on India. But, still a long way to go for us.

Saturday, 1 September, 2007

Ban plastics and ‘live happily thereafter’?

Kerala Government is enforcing the plastic ban from today. Will banning plastics be a happy ending story? Some questions!

How effective will be the ban?

What types of plastics are being banned? Will all the carry bags/ plastics above 30micron (or whatever) be reused to the maximum? By avoiding free shopping bags?

What are the alternatives for plastic carry bags, packing materials? Paper bags, cloth bags or bio-plastics? What is the environmental impact of paper bags (trees used for raw materials & energy used to produce / recycle them)?

How will we ensure that the remaining plastics are not mixed with other wastes and that they are recycled or utilised as fuel after extensive use? Separate waste handling for different types of wastes? What will be the penalties for disposing them irresponsibly? What will be the roles and responsibilities of plastics manufacturers?

What are impacts of plastic ban on the main users of plastics like bakers, restaurants, packers, etc? How the existing employees of plastic manufacturing industry will be affected? What are the solutions for them?

How do we handle or process other wastes - Municipal wastes, waste water? (ban water also?) Do we consider the wastes as utilisable resources? How extensively do we use covered or piped sewerages (instead of open mosquito ‘breeding centres’), separated from rain water drains, in cities and towns leading to waste processing facilities, centralised or decentralised? How effectively can the waste water be reused? How will we avoid seeping of untreated waste water from latrines/ septic tanks to the underground water table or water bodies like lakes and rivers? What is the significance of biogas plants here?

Thursday, 16 August, 2007

News: Joint India-Pakistan celebrations 'way to reunion'?

Excerpts from

Joint India-Pakistan celebrations 'way to reunion'
By Binsal Abdul Kader, Staff ReporterLast updated: August 15, 2007, 23:48
Abu Dhabi: Many Indian and Pakistani expatriates expressed their wish to have joint Independence Day celebrations here as they share a common culture.
Pakistani driver Saeed Maktoum Hussain said common Independence Day celebrations here can be a first step towards reuniting the people.
"Here Indians and Pakistanis work together and cooperate in all fields of life. Why can't we have common celebrations? Religion has never been a barrier in relationships as I have got many Hindu and Sikh friends from India," said Hussain.
Hussain said the cooperation should be not only between India and Pakistan but Bangladesh also.
An Indian, Anil Pakale, who is an active member of a community organisation 'Maharashtra Mandal', echoed the same feeling.
"My Pakistani colleagues are my best friends and religion has never been a barrier in our friendship. If people can be friends, both the countries can work together and can do wonders in economy and industrial sectors, as well as cricket. Common independence day celebrations here can be a first step towards that goal," said Pakale.
Zahid Ahad, a Pakistani safety manager, said people from the two countries have to look at the positive sides of the relationship instead of political differences. "I don't understand why two communities hesitate to join together here?" said Zahid.

Divided by nationality, united by love and family
By Sunita Menon, Staff ReporterPublished: August 15, 2007, 23:36
Dubai: An Indian accountant finds it a bit difficult to meet his relatives in Pakistan. Their reunion takes place in Dubai.
"There are no hassles when we meet in Dubai," said Ghanshyam Rochiram Kundani, 55, who had last been to Pakistan in 1984 on an invitation from his cousins who live in Sindh.
"Before partition in 1947 we were landowners. I just had one glimpse of the grand ancestral home of 17 rooms owned by my grandfather while I was there. My father used to tell us a lot about the house. My father along with my grandfather migrated to India after partition," said Kundani.
"They landed at the gateway of India in Mumbai and sustained the family by selling match boxes and textile on the roads," he said.
He is not alone, scores of Indians and Pakistanis meet here.
Vikram from India and Sara from Lahore in Pakistan have made their home here. It took them three long years to convince their parents and get all the necessary paperwork processed to get married at the Indian consulate in Dubai.

Tuesday, 17 July, 2007

Road accidents in Kerala cost Rs. 6,600 crore

Social cost of road accidents in Kerala is in the tune of Rs. 6,600 crore or more annually. Prof. Dinesh Mohan, IIT Delhi, in his report (2004) details about the estimation of social cost of road accidents and puts the social cost in India for year 2000 as Rs.55,000 crore. Kerala is ‘contributing’ 12% of the total road accidents in India, which makes the social cost of road accidents to Rs. 6,600 crore per annum. The costs include medical expenses, legal fees, property damage, insurance costs and loss of output due to death. Note that the estimated cost of the proposed 515km Expressway from Kasargod to Thiruvanathapuram was Rs. 6,400 crore and that of the proposed Metro railway in Kochi was Rs.2,000 crore. Tax collected in 2006-07 was Rs 8,600 crore.

Press release dated August 10, 2006 shown in the website of Department of Road Transport & Highways is given below.

New Delhi, Sravana 19, 1928
August 10, 2006
The World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention of World Health Organization in 2004, inter-alia, have indicated that without increased efforts and new initiatives, the total number of road traffic deaths worldwide and injuries is forecast to rise by some 65% between 2000 and 2020 and in low income and middle income countries deaths are expected to increase as much as 80%.

The Working Group set up by Planning Commission in the year 2000 chaired by Shri Prakash Narain, Former Chairman, Railway Board had assessed the social cost of road accidents in the country in the year 1999-2000 at Rs. 55,000 crores.

This information was given by the Minister of State for Shipping, Road Transport and Highways, Shri K.H. Muniyappa in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha today.

Wednesday, 13 June, 2007

Reusing waste plastics as fuel

Plastics are so adaptable in use that their impacts on the ecosystem are far-reaching. Irresponsible dumping of plastic bags block drains, obstructs the permeability of the soil and causes problems for groundwater recharge. Plastic upsets the soil microbe activity, and once eaten, can kill animals. The estimated quantity of municipal sold waste generated in India every day is 131,000 tonnes or 48 million tonnes annually (2003). Plastics constitute at least seven per cent of this waste or 9,200 tonnes daily. Unlike other wastes, plastics do not degrade easily and is usually advised not to burn them as it emanates poisonous gases during its burning in open air at temperatures less than 400 degree Celsius. It is generally estimated that our households contribute major share of plastic wastes in urban areas in the form of used carry bags, bottles, packets of milk, etc. Packaging constitutes 52% of plastics consumption. The tendency of people in urban areas is to throw these plastics along the roads, as they cannot process them or recycle them in their compounds and it becomes a ‘burning’ problem for Municipalities & Corporations.

Recycling plastics
Most people think that all of their waste plastics can be recycled, but that's not true. Plastics in category 1 (Polyethylene Terephthalate) and category 2 (High Density Polyethylene) are mainly recycled. It is usually called down-cycling because the waste plastics are converted into low-grade plastics. The cost of conversion is also high making the down cycling less attractive and also the conversion process cannot be repeated forever. Plastic categories 4 through 7 -- such as lids, sheets of plastic and wrappers -- traditionally are discarded at recycling centres. But they are of value because they generate heat when burned. Plastics, being derived from petroleum, have the energy content similar to petroleum fuels. The main concern about burning plastics is when type 3 plastics (mainly PVC) are incinerated, because of the chlorinated compounds they contain. There have been attempts in India to use waste plastics in developing road surfaces with it. This does not dispose of the toxins but simply spreads it around, much like in the case of landfills.

Plastics as fuel
James W. Garthe of the Pennsylvania State University has developed a process in 1995 to convert all types of dirty plastics into fuel nuggets. The intent of the nugget process was to direct used plastics into a new raw material stream for energy recovery, either co-fired with coal in community and agricultural boilers or burned directly. The process was developed for waste agricultural plastics, yet it works with plastics found in all sectors of society. Both film and rigid thermoplastics can be accommodated.

The 'plastofuel', as Garthe calls it, overcomes most major impediments in plastic waste management. The Garthe machine is a hydraulic compactor with a heated die. Roughly shred and cleaned waste is fed into the hopper, from where a ram pushes it into the heated die. At exit of the die, the extrudate is sliced by a hot-knife into nuggets. The nuggets may then be stored forever and transported economically. These nuggets can be used as a high-energy fuel supplement for coal-fired applications. In such applications, it is found that plastics will not adversely affect emissions levels as the plastics are burned at very high temperatures. At more than 1,200 degree Celsius, plastics burn completely without leaving out toxic solids and without black, toxic smoke usually associated with burning plastics at the backyards.

A blessing in disguise
In the Garthe machine, the die is heated just enough to fuse the outer skin of the nugget. The energy required for this is minimal. It is in fact a compaction process, readying the waste for storage and transportation. The calorific value in the plastic waste remains trapped. Thus, the energy gained from nuggets is more than what was put in to create them. Cottage level entrepreneurs (similar to Kudumbashree units in Kerala) can generate income by using such a machine, after collecting the waste plastics directly from the source (like the households).

Commercial utilisation of waste plastics
1. GR Technology Company, Ltd. of Seoul, Korea
A new technology, developed by GR Technology Company, Ltd. of Seoul, Korea, burns plastic pellets made from waste plastics of all sorts, initially from agricultural sources. William Bang of GRT arranged to ship one of these burner units to Penn State for testing. It was installed to heat a high tunnel and a greenhouse at the Penn State Horticulture Research Farm. Eventually the burner/boiler system was modified to burn plastofuel nuggets, which were significantly larger than the pea-sized pellets. Testing of the 120,000 kcal/hr heater unit in Korea showed the system meets US EPA emissions standards.

2. Whitehall Cement Plant of Lafarge North America
Lafarge North America, which has begun fuelling the kilns at its Whitehall Township cement plant in part by burning the scraps of non-recyclable plastic. Lafarge says burning plastic could keep more than 10,000 tons of the substance out of landfills each year, while also cutting the amount of coal used by the Whitehall cement plant. The plant, which has burned used tires for several years, now can derive up to 45 percent of its power from tires and plastic. Plastic also costs less than coal, which means the new power source will cut Lafarge's fuel bills. The state Department of Environmental Protection approved the plastic plan after a five-year review, ruling it would not exceed standards for chemical release.

3. Unique Plastic Waste Management & Research Co Pvt Ltd, Nagpur, India
Prof. Mrs. Alka Umesh Zadgaonkar, Head of Department of Applied Chemistry at the Nagpur based G. H. Raisoni College of Engineering invented an Environment friendly catalytic process for disposal of waste plastic. The invented process involves degradation waste plastic using `catalytic-additive’ and is different from the generally existing pyrolytic processes. The laboratory scale set-up was developed in batch mode in which individual as well as mixed plastics were successfully converted in to fuels. The products obtained in the process are Liquid hydrocarbons, Gas and residual Coke. Prof Alka & Dr. Umesh Zadgaonkar started a company named Unique Plastic Waste Management & Research Co Pvt Ltd, which is converting plastic wastes into fuels equivalent to petrol and LPG on a commercial basis.

This commercial utilisation of waste plastics give great scope for people engaged in waste collection to earn more income, saves more fossil fuel, keeps our neighbourhoods clean and saves landfill space. Policy makers should take into consideration the failure of attempts to ban plastics of various thicknesses.

Read also:
PSU team turning waste plastic to fuel
Waste plastic technology
Burning plastic for fuel a win-win situation
Alka Zadgaonkar wrings plastic waste for profit
Plastic to Petrol: Conversion of waste plastic to energy

For an efficient public transport system in Kerala

Unhealthy competition
Private bus services are the strength of public transport system in Kerala but the state of its affairs is pitiable. Reckless driving of these bus services exists, because of the unhealthy competition among the individual bus services. Poorly trained and immature drivers are also the cause for the accidents involving private buses. Fierce arguments and quarrels between staff of rival bus services are the order of the day. Most buses carry goondas (some are called timekeepers! and at times bus owners themselves) to manhandle the staff of the competing bus service. In the long run, neither the passengers nor the bus operators are gaining anything out of this unhealthy competition. Increased use of fuel, wear & tear of spare parts, etc reduces the fitness of the buses quite early.

The authorities remain helpless in controlling their over-speed and the ill behaviour of bus staff towards the passengers. (Or the authorities may be happy by allotting new routes and time schedules to the preference of bus owners.) Bus operators often break the trips that give less collection, especially the night trips. Thanks to this situation, more and more passengers are tempted to own private vehicles for their easy transportation. Those passengers who can’t afford to buy private vehicles are left to hang on to these bus services even if they are physically ill. In other words, lack of an efficient public transport system is the reason for the proliferation of private vehicles (especially two-wheelers) on our roads.

Benefits of bus and cost of road accidents
Studies show that, the comparative fuel costs of a car and a two wheeler to meet the same travel demand as a bus is 11.8 times and 6.8 times respectively and occupies 38 times and 54 times more road space respectively. Replacement of a single bus by an equivalent number of two wheelers would add to air pollution by 27 per cent and cars would cause 17 per cent more pollution. Kerala State has nearly three percent of the country’s population, but it has recorded nearly 12 percent of the country’s road accidents. 32 % of the accidents involve two-wheelers, 19% car/jeep & 18% involve auto-rickshaws. Some studies put the social cost of road accidents each year in Kerala as high as Rs. 1,300 crores.

Mode of investments and hardships
It might be ironical to note that at a time when NRIs and retired people could not find ample opportunities for investing safely the money they have saved, many bus owners depend on private banks (called 'blade companies’) for their finances through hire purchase schemes. (Some of the banks charge as large as 30% per annum towards interest and that too at a flat rate -double the rate if we compare it with diminishing loan amount rates. When the RBI stipulated a limit of 12% for loan interest, these 'blades' put the remaining 18% as service charges and under other heads. So a bus owner opting for a 3-year repayment period ends up paying almost double the loan amount to the bank. For defaulters, they charge heavy penal interest and that too under different heads. If there is defaulting for more instalments, their bus will be seized, irrespective of whether any passengers are travelling or not, by goondas contracted by the bank.) Thus, the passengers face hardships of goonda-raj along with that of the fierce competition to maximise the collection in each trip.

Can we ignore the industry
Now the question is, how long the Kerala Government can afford to ignore an industry which interacts directly with people across the length and breadth of the state and which is worth at least Rs.2,000 crore in investment with a daily collection of at least Rs. 10 crores? (Considering 25,000 private buses - as per 2003 statistics of Kerala Government web site and assuming a minimum collection of Rs.4,000 per bus on an average.)

Early birds want all the worms!
Kerala Private Bus Operators Coordination Committee has been demanding, among other things, freezing the issuance of new bus permits with a reference to 'Tamil Nadu model' nationalisation of routes. (It may be noted that the share of private bus services in TN is only one-fourth and various corporations own the remaining services, whereas in Kerala private operators own about 85% of the services. The presence of KSRTC, which owns the remaining 15%, is felt only in the southern districts and Thiruvananthapuram City. Travel pattern of passengers, density of railway route length, etc of TN are different from that of Kerala). Their demand gives the feeling that their buses are not getting sufficient passengers to fill up the seats, but in reality, most buses travel with more passengers than they are allowed to. The demand is only an indication of how fierce the competition is. It is only recently that private buses were allowed to operate in Thiruvananthapuram City through a court order, before which only KSRTC was allowed to operate and KSRTC could not meet the growing demands of the city.

The Solution: Combine all private bus services
The best way to avoid the unhealthy competition is to combine these bus services to form a single company (or two companies for a healthy competition). The bus owners shall hold shares in the company equivalent to the total value of the buses they were possessing at the time of the merger and receive their dividends without much trouble. The merger can bring down the operating expenses of these services by way of bulk purchase of diesel, quality spare parts, etc. The quality and safety of the services can be improved by utilising professional management techniques right from the bodybuilding of the buses to rationalisation of schedules. The bus operating staff will benefit more because they don’t have to quarrel with other staff and there will be increased job security for them (individual bus owners usually don’t own a bus for long periods). Constant training for the staff and incorporation of latest technologies can make travelling a pleasant experience. Such a company can be made to commit social obligations like providing bus services to non-represented areas, say 10% of total route length.

More benefits
Such a company can build bus stations, etc with modern facilities, without straining the resources of local bodies or government and can also take up building & maintenance of roads, parking facilities, etc. It can improve the public transport system further by investing in metro railways in all the major cities.

Public transport in Singapore
In Singapore, just two companies (TIBS and SBS Transit) operate the bus services and one of the companies now operates also the recently commissioned fully automatic underground Mass Rapid Transit ( MRT) train service of the North East Line. Besides having a good road network (the total length of three Expressways is about 150km whereas the length of the island is about 43km!), Singapore uses a very conscious approach in terms of public transport. The Govt discourages ownership of Private vehicles like cars by imposing huge duties. The roads with heavy traffic are regulated at peak hours through Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), so those who really don’t want to use a particular road will take alternate roads with less traffic to reach their destination. Bulk of the passengers depends now on the MRT trains, which was introduced a few years ago.

A two-tier representation can reduce election expenses and corruption

The elections to Parliament and State Legislatures are very expensive and it is a widely accepted fact that huge election expenditure is the root cause for corruption in India. A candidate has to spend lakhs of rupees to get elected and even if he gets elected, the total salary he gets during his tenure as an MP/MLA will be meagre compared to his election expenses. How can he bridge the gap between the income and expenses? - publicly through donations and secretly through corruption. Donations by Corporates and liquor barons to parties / candidates are often to get policies favourable for their business.

Corruption occurs as a chain reaction here. Representatives and party men collect bribes from people for allotting govt. or semi govt. posts and for transfers in various departments. These officials will in turn collect bribes from the public to get their things done. The situation is not beyond imagination, if police and judicial officers get their posting through back door. We don’t have to find more reasons why criminals are not just supporting elected representatives and instead becoming ‘representatives’ themselves. The very essence of democracy is defeated when money power rules and the equation becomes – of the Deprived, by the Bigwigs, for the Privileged. Criminalisation of politics can be uprooted only if this situation is avoided. Various debates and seminars are being conducted at various forums (and even in feature films) on this topic (links to some of them are given below) but none of them seems to have found a proper solution.

There is a move for state funding of candidates' election expenses. Though a partial funding will be beneficial (like arranging a common platform for meet-the-candidates), it is better to find ways to bring down the election expenses of candidates rather than increasing the spending in the extravaganza, through appropriate electoral reforms.

The lion’s share of election expenses is for ‘educating’ the voters, who the candidate is and what his qualities are. If the candidate is one among the voters, there is lesser need for posters, banners, etc. Moreover the voters now have no say in the selection of party candidates nor does the public have a proper interface with their elected representatives, as the ratio of voters to reps is very huge in India (An MP represents more than 18 lakh people on an average). Ideologies and manifestos now get lesser importance once the election process completes. All the voters can do now is to cast their 'precious' votes and wait for another election to do the same. It may be the reason why lesser and lesser number of voters turnout in the elections.

Candidates use many crooked ways to win elections like sponsoring of rebels for opposing candidate (again increase in expense) thereby splitting the opponent's vote. Some candidates intimidate the voters so that the voters stay away from voting for their opponents. In the end, candidates gets declared as being elected just by obtaining 15% or less of total votes in the constituency (The first-past-the-post system). It is very difficult to enforce a minimum percentage rule under current circumstances, as the re-elections will also be cumbersome and expensive.

Can we reduce the election expenses for candidates?
We can achieve a significant reduction in election expenses for candidates by adopting a two-tier approach. For the parliament or state legislatures, each constituency may be divided into around 500 to 1000 sub-constituencies depending on the size of the constituency. The voters of each sub-constituency may elect a rep (primary rep / people's rep or PR) for their sub-constituency. These PRs (who form an electoral college) shall elect from themselves (or otherwise) the rep for the constituency. Here a candidate will have to convince only the PRs what he can do for the constituency and the country. The PRs can consult their voters thereafter and elect a rep accordingly for their constituency. The duty of a PR doesn't end with this election, instead can double as Public Relations personnel for the elected rep.

Call back the representatives
The PRs shall assemble periodically to decide the future course of action for the constituency and to assess the performance of their elected representative. If the performance of their rep is not found satisfactory, the PRs shall call back the rep and consequently elect a new rep in his place. So the reps will have to maintain a good relation or contact with the PRs and the constituency whereas the reps used to dance to the tunes of ‘sponsors’.

Emergence of a new political culture
PRs shall not have much powers and shall just act as an intermediary between voters and their rep. PRs shall be from all walks of life (not just full time politicians) and shall utilise their tenure to acquire training in democratic procedures and to prove their leadership qualities. Student politics, strikes/bandhs/hartals (destructive methods!) will not be required for the emergence of new political leaders.

A minimum percentage rule can be enforced to make sure that the candidates who obtain a minimum percentage (say, 51%) of the total votes in the constituency shall only be declared as elected.

Advantages of the two-tier system of electioneering
* Election expenses for each candidate will be reduced significantly, there by the chance of corruption gets reduced.
* Sincere people will enter politics with less hesitation.
* Voters will have more say on who should be their rep, not the party chiefs or sponsoring beneficiaries.
* Elected reps will have more time to spend with the voters, as the reps will be less bounded to sponsors.
* Better correlation between voters and their reps possible through an intermediate layer of PRs.
* Voters will not have to wait for the next election to sack their reps, if required.
* A new blend of leaders will emerge through PRs, so politics will have lesser influence from leaders emerged with bandh/hartal culture.
* A minimum percentage rule for votes polled can be enforced.
* Political parties will have to be people centred and so parties revolving around a few leaders (or parties without internal democracy) will become extinct.

Read also:
Reduce election expenses to check corruption
Election expenditure - root cause of corruption
Corruption in public life
Combating corruption
The right to govern ourselves
Law of corruption
The inevitability of political corruption in India
In the name of the party