Biomass co-firing: Why India’s target for coal power plants is challenging

News: The unavailability of biomass pellets of agricultural residues is halting the implementation of co-firing biomass with coal in thermal power plants.

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.

What are the steps taken to improve Biomass co-firing?

According to the ‘National Mission on use of biomass for coal thermal power plants’ set up by the Union power ministry, around 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 called 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 strengthen and regulate the supply chain, the manufacturers were also asked to be registered under SAMARTH.

Training for pellet manufacturers has been conducted by the National Power Training Institute all over the country.

What are the benefits of Biomass co-firing?

Reduction in CO2 emissions: Substituting 5-7% of coal with biomass in coal-based power plants can save 38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

Biomass co-firing is an effective way to curb emissions from open burning of crop residue; it also decarbonises the process of electricity generation using coal.

Read here: Can biomass co-firing offer a viable solution to coal shortage and stubble burning?
What are the challenges faced in Biomass co-firing in India?

There is not much improvement in Biomass co-firing in India because,

Low Pellet manufacturing capacity: India’s pellet manufacturing capacity is 7,000 tonnes per day at present despite a surplus of 228 million tonnes of agricultural residue available in the country.

Higher price in the open market: Pellet suppliers favour selling their product to industries such as textile, food processing, metal-based or in the open market at higher prices.

Increased demand from industries in NCR: Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas directed industries in Delhi-National Capital Region to switch to cleaner fuels by end of September 2022. Hence, the Biomass demand from industries escalated.

Challenges in biomass pellet storing: Only pellets with up to 14% moisture can be used for combustion along with coal. Storing biomass pellets for long durations at the plant sites is hard, since they absorb moisture from air quickly, rendering them useless for co-firing.

Seasonal availability and unreliable supply of biomass pellets.

Must ReadScale of crop residue generation in India
What should be done to improve biomass for co-firing?

a) SAMARTH must map the existing pellet manufacturers and incentivise entrepreneurs to set up more pellet manufacturing plants, b)  SAMARTH has to ensure the price of biomass pellets is capped and protected from fluctuations in market demand, c) Platforms need to be established to ensure farmers have an intrinsic role in this business model of pellet manufacturing and co-firing in power plants.

Source: This post is based on the article “Biomass co-firing: Why India’s target for coal power plants is challenging” published in Down To Earth on 13th June 22.

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