“Compressed Biogas Is A Strong Green Fuel Contender”

Shweta Bhanot Mehrotra
06 Oct 2022
09:00 AM
5 Min Read

Aashish Maheshwari, Associate Business Director – High Performance Polymer, Evonik India, talks about how CBG can be a game changer, and a true contributor towards a circular economy.

Aashish Maheshwari

Aashish Maheshwari is an experienced and effective sales business development professional with a demonstrated history of working in various industries overseeing sales figures & new accounts – business developments. A B.Tech in Chemical Engineering and a Masters in International Business, Maheshwari has been with Evonik India for close to 12 years.

How can Compressed Biogas (CBG) contribute to India’s energy needs?

CBG can be a game changer in transforming the ecosystem and creating value from waste. It can resolve many challenges faced by India including air pollution due to stubble burning of crop residues, throwing of untreated sewage waste from urban cities into water bodies, and food and produce waste from farms, supply chains, restaurants and households that end up either into landfills or left to rot in open spaces. It can also significantly reduce India’s dependency on crude oil imports.

CBG is already making successful inroads into the power and transportation sector in the country. It is looked upon as a promising fuel that would reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and reduce dependency on crude oil imports. At present, crude oil makes 45% of the energy mix of the country, and to meet the country’s requirement, India imports close to 85% of crude from international markets. However, with CBG, which also has the potential to replace CNG, we can see a significant shift in the energy mix of India. 

What according to you is the biggest challenge in making CBG readily available to users in India? How can these challenges be overcome with new age technology solutions like Evonik’s membrane technology?

The lack of initiatives has kept biomass more of a rural economy product that too in the rawest form. However, things are changing with government’s approach towards CBG as the fuel of today and future. The National Policy on Biofuel (NPB) of 2018 emphasises on promoting usage of biofuels, including CBG across energy and transportation sectors. CBG is also seen as an alternative fuel for powering energy plants and as cooking gas for households. 

Under the 'SATAT’ (Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation) scheme on Compressed Bio Gas (CBG) 2018, the government has been encouraging private entrepreneurs to set-up CBG plants, produce and supply CBG to OMCs for sale as automotive and industrial fuels. 

CBG is the fuel of future to run vehicles, cook, and even generate power. But its faster adoption would be directly dependent on its cost and purity. To make sure that CBG is the fuel of choice, it is important to work reverse from the way it is purified.

Membrane technology is one of the most effective ways to purify CBG. Membrane technology is sustainable and an environmentally-friendly process, and does not release or use harmful chemicals in treating the biogas for commercial usage. 

Compared with other biogas upgrading processes such as pressurised water scrubbing, pressure swing adsorption, or amine scrubbing, Evonik’s membrane technology has significant advantages: it requires comparatively little energy and does not need any auxiliary materials or chemicals. No waste or wastewater is produced that would otherwise have to be treated and disposed of. 

Evonik India offers innovative hollow-fibre membranes for highly efficient biogas separation. The membranes are economical, easy-to-operate and modular by nature, and require no chemical or drying stage, and minimal space and almost no installation time altogether. With more than 700 references worldwide, the benefits of this membrane are manifold, when compared to traditional technologies for biogas upgrade and enrichment.         


Can you explain how the entire ecosystem of CBG works and its scope across automotive, defence and power segments?

Biogas is produced by anaerobic digestion from bio-mass feedstock such as agricultural waste, cattle dung, sugarcane press mud, municipal solid waste, and sewage treatment plants, among others. The degeneration of organic waste is acted upon by anaerobic bacteria that releases biogas as a by-product. This biogas is then treated further to get pure CBG, the gas that has the potential to replace CNG and be a strong contender as the green fuel for transportation, power generation and household cooking.

After it is treated and purified at the plants, CBG can be piped back to settlements to fire their cooking units, supplied to fuel outlets to run vehicles, used as an energy source for power generation, and utilised by farmlands to pump water into farms, illumination and running equipment.

Be it value creation at the waste segregation level or at the recycling unit that converts waste into energy, CBG has the potential to create an entire value chain led by economic and environmental advantages. Hence, realising the circular advantage. 

One, it can help organise and streamline waste management, and second create additional income for farmers and lastly contribute towards building CBG ecosystem. CBG is expected to boost farmer income, enhance infrastructure development leading to rural development, promote organic farming, and create 75,000 potential direct jobs and lakh of indirect job opportunities in the country.

As per a report by IEA, since 2002 and till 2020, India has more than doubled its energy demand with around 80% of it met by coal, oil and solid biomass. The country’s energy demand is on a rise and seen close to three times of the global average. By 2030, it is expected to grow by 50%. 

With this expanding energy demand due to the rising economic activity and urbanisation, it is important for India to look at alternative energy sources to fuel its industries, transportation and households; at the same time, not adversely impacting its environment and keeping carbon emissions at check. 

How much biomass does India produce per month and how can this waste be converted into value?

As per the data available on GIS Based Waste Mapping Tool, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, India generates a total of 623 million TPA of solid waste and 20,395 million cu.m. of liquid waste. These are waste predominantly generated from farms, sewages, fruit and vegetable (raw and processing), distilleries, and sugarcane mills, among others. This waste has the potential to create 43,737 TPD of bio-CNG and 9,116 MW of energy generation. 

Since farm waste, including cattle dung, crop residues, vegetable and raw fruits, among others, form a significant source for biogas and later the purified CBG, the vast farm lands in India and it being a predominantly agri economy comes as a strong advantage. It is in line with this underlying potential that the government has been encouraging private entrepreneurs and start-ups to set-up CBG production units and contribute to the CBG economy. 

Under SATAT, the government has set some ambitious plans. What is Evonik India’s engagement with it and how do you see this rolling out, leading the growth of CBG usage?

The government under the 'SATAT’ scheme has been encouraging private entrepreneurs to set-up CBG plants, produce and supply CBG to OMCs for sale as automotive and industrial fuels. It has set a target to achieve 15 MMT (million tons) CBG production by 2023 from 5,000 plants. As of August 2022, 3,497 LOIs have been issued, 37 CBG plants commissioned, and 9,019 tonnes of CBG sold. 

The CBG economy is seen as a boon for farmers with direct and collateral benefits. Today, India generates around 42.2% waste from cattle farms. In the 2022-23 Budget, the government has increased budget for livestock by 40%, and central sector schemes have been increased by 48%, indicating the government's commitment to double farmer income by 2022. 

Moreover, the CBG plants have been put under priority sector lending list by Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to make CBG an attract investment opportunity for companies and help in attaining government’s aim of 15 MMT. These CBG plants are expected to bring in investments of close to INR 1.75 lakh crore, and be an additional revenue source for farmers. 

We are technology partners and provide green technology to various investors and entrepreneurs setting-up CBG plants in India. 

CBG plant
A Compressed Biogas plant (Representative image)

Please throw some light on the current CBG production in India and its usage.

Currently, CBG is largely consumed by power and transportation sector in the country. Widespread production and usage of CBG will not only reduce India’s dependency on crude oil imports but also enhance farmers’ income and rural employment. Solid by-products of CBG can be used as bio-manure, which can enhance agricultural output. Thus, the entire CBG value chain has economic and environmental advantages.

How is CBG being adopted in other markets of Evonik's operations? 

The target reduction in carbon footprint will be achieved through a five-pronged strategy that includes – increasing domestic production, adopting biofuels & renewables, implementing energy efficiency norms, improving refinery processes, and achieving demand substitution.

This strategy envisages a strategic role for biofuels, especially biogas, in the Indian energy basket. The need to fuel progress is important and energy that is clean and renewable is the need of the hour for India. 

With a supportive policy framework, we can see Europe is very successful in the biogas sector with more than 10,000 biogas plants. They are using bio-methane as a fuel and gas grid application.

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