A farmer is a multi purpose entrepreneur. His farm (factory) produces multiple crops (products) which he sells in the market. Yet only 25-40% of his crop (grain, fruits etc.) fetches him any money, whereas the rest of his produce (agricultural residues) which constitutes 60-75% of the product is totally wasted and most of the times he has to burn it in the fields.
I know no other industry in the world where 60-75% of the product is not sold or simply junked. No industry can survive on such low productivity. Yet for agriculture we do not think at all about this wastage. This besides the low support price by Government of India has made the farming non-remunerative.
Thus no amount of subsidies or government
can help the farmers. The only way the
farmers can be helped is when they get money for the agricultural
This can only happen when these residues can be used to produce energy
Three types of energy can be produced from these residues. Liquid fuels such as ethanol or pyrolysis oil; gaseous fuels like biogas (methane) and electricity.
Ethanol fuel which can be used as transport fuel
produced by lignocellulosic conversion of residues into ethanol. Extensive R&D is being done world over to
optimize this technology. Few large
scale plants in
Pyrolysis oil on the other hand is produced by
combustion of biomass and then condensing rapidly the ensuing vapors or
to yield oil which is nearly equivalent to diesel.
Around 20% of charcoal is also produced as a
by-product in the process. The charcoal can be used as cooking fuel for
households. The pyrolysis oil technology was developed in early 1990s
Similarly these residues can theoretically
MW of electric power year round through biomass-based power plants. This power is nearly 60% of the present
installed capacity of
A part of these agricultural residues can also
be used via
the bio-digester route to produce fertilizer for the crops and methane
either run rural transport, irrigation pump sets or for cooking
purposes. Yet another stream can also be
producing fodder for animals. Thus the
residues if properly utilized can produce fuel, fodder and fertilizer
taking care of a huge chunk of
Energy from agricultural residues in
As the demand for energy increases we may see
huge tracts of
land coming under energy crops like sugarcane for ethanol production or
Jatropha for producing biodiesel etc. This can adversely effect the
production. Already these effects are felt in
I strongly feel that when the farmers are
long term sustainability of the country is threatened.
When farms produce both food and fuel then
their utility becomes manifold. In
Presently the growth of traditional agricultural
pegged at 2-3% per year. This low growth
is mainly because the agriculture is non-remunerative.
If both food and energy is produced from the
same piece of land then
Published as a Leader Editorial article in Times of India, 6 June 2007.
© Anil K Rajvanshi. April 2007