The sugar industry is among the most significant contributors to the Indian economy, creating employment and promoting rural development. However, the main issue with sugar mills was the massive amount of waste disposal which caused environmental concerns. In recent years, sugar mills have expanded their horizons by exploring new opportunities for generating value through waste in the form of bioCNG.
Their efforts to convert the waste into fuel and reduce the carbon footprint through the installation of a compressed biogas plant have been highly successful and have garnered government attention, leading to investments in the same.
Biogas from sugarcane waste is generated through a process called anaerobic digestion. Even though sugarcane waste is organic, it produces greenhouse gases when it decomposes, which are harmful to the environment. Almost a decade ago, a research institute in Pune decided to analyse the potential of press mud- a waste of sugarcane mills, to produce bio-CNG, resulting in a huge success.
The waste products such as bagasse, press mud and spent wash are fed to the digester, where bacteria break down the organic matter in the waste material, producing biogas. This biogas is then cleaned/upgraded in a biogas to CNG plant and bottled as bioCNG for various applications. The complete process is a closed-loop system, making it a sustainable solution for waste management in the sugar industry.
Three major players in the sugar industry of India are Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka, which have started reusing their waste material in a productive manner.
For instance, a sugar mill in Maharashtra has set up a bio-CNG plant with a capacity of 10 tonnes per day. The plant uses its sugarcane waste as a feedstock to produce bioCNG which is then sold to the transportation sector. By taking this initiative, they have reduced their carbon footprint significantly, managed their waste efficiently, and generated an additional source of revenue in the process.
Similarly, another sugar mill in Uttar Pradesh has set up a bioCNG plant with a capacity of 20 tonnes per day. This sugar mill further maximised its benefits by utilising the biofuel generated from its waste to power its boilers and generators. A bio-CNG plant helped them reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, reduce their carbon footprint and have an additional source of revenue.
The Indian government has taken a keen interest in encouraging the production and use of clean fuel. It has launched several schemes to promote the adoption of biogas plants in sugar mills across the country. One such scheme is the SATAT (Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation), launched in 2018. It is a scheme that supports the establishment and expansion of biogas plants. Under this scheme, the Union government plans to establish a total of 5000 biogas plants in India by the end of 2023-2024.
Also, in the budget announcement of Feb-2023, the finance minister announced 500 new ‘waste to wealth’ plants under GOBARdhan(Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources Dhan) scheme. According to the finance minister, this scheme will include 200 compressed biogas plants in 75 urban areas and 300 community or cluster-based plants at an investment of Rs 10,000 crore.
Sugar mills across India are embracing sustainable practices by converting their waste into clean fuel with the help of a compressed biogas plant. This is not only an economic but also an environmentally cautious initiative that has garnered attention from the government. Furthermore, the government is taking steps to promote this initiative and prioritise sustainable development.