Compressed Biogas – The fuel for sustainable and circular economy

Mr. Vinod Paremal | Regional President | Evonik India Subcontinent

Specialty Chemicals - Evonik Industries

Whether one would want to acknowledge it or not, global warming is happening. As the forests are being cut down and the air grows thick with smog, the polar ice caps are melting, the climatic conditions are becoming more extreme and ambient temperatures are soaring. 

In a bid to slow down this impending catastrophe, the world has finally woken up to reducing the carbon footprint in every facet of human existence. Whether it is fashion or infrastructure, sustainability is the new buzzword that manufacturers and marketing professionals are using with great aplomb to peddle their products and services. 

With sustainability as the primary motivator, the world is seeing a significant change in the total proportion of global energy investment toward clean energy technologies.The Indian renewable energy sector is the world’s fourth most appealing renewable energy market. As of 2020, India was rated fourth in wind power, fifth in solar power, and fourth in renewable power installed capacity.The government is dedicated to increasing the use of clean energy, and it is already implementing a number of large-scale sustainable energy projects and aggressively pushing green energy.

India is also actively looking to promote waste to energy projects to meet its energy demands sustainably – SATAT (Sustainable Alternative to Affordable Transportation) initiative, launched in 2018 by MoPNG (Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas), looks at meeting growing energy demands of the Transportation sector, at the same time, promote a circular economy, is promising.

SATAT aims to promote Compressed Biogas (CBG), highly purified biogas that consists of at least 90% methane. To purify and render raw biogas suitable as a fuel for automobiles and industries, conventional methods like water and chemical scrubbing are used to extract the methane to obtain CBG.However, these methods of methane extraction use chemicals and water, which generate effluents that aren’t exactly eco-friendly to begin with and are therefore not sustainable in the truest sense of the term. 

To circumvent this issue, newer genuinely sustainable technologies have been developed which utilise specially designed membranes that allow the high-quality methane to filter through while leaving the impurities behind. Using membrane-based separation technology such as Evonik’s SEPURAN® Green, methane with purity of more than 95% can be achieved, and furthermore, there are no environmentally unfriendly by-products to contend with, making this energy source sustainable and green in its truest sense. 

India, with its 1.3 billion people, generates 62 million tonnes of refuse, with a sizable component of it being organic in nature. With more than 60 % of the geographical area of India capable of supporting agricultural activities in order to feed this burgeoning population, the quantities of agricultural waste produced annually are staggering as well. All of this waste is either burned – creating severe smog and air pollution – or is dumped into landfills where it rots, emitting methane into the environment and oozes foul liquids into the ground causing soil degradation and pollution of the water table. 

Safe disposal of all this organic waste has been a nightmare for authorities, both in terms of effectiveness and costs, but the good news is that there is hope in the form of CBG. The raw form of CBG – Biogas, is generated through the anaerobic decomposition of biomass. Everything from Municipal Solid Waste, agricultural waste, animal waste, sugarcane press mud and the likes can be used as feedstock, and therein lies the uniqueness of CBG. And after the CBG is extracted, the sludge left behind can be used as organic fertiliser by farmers. Hence, Sustainable Biogas Systems are being regarded as key steps to promote a circular economy between Municipal Solid Waste and Industrial/Agricultural Waste Management Systems.

Through the adoption of CBG, which was once an organic waste, can now be used gainfully as a source for clean, renewable energy. CBG being an environment-friendly fuel with the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 98 per cent, will help support the country in minimizing dependency on fossil fuels.CBG adoption will create a waste-to-wealth opportunity, reduce the country’s dependence on fuel imports, and give rise to the perfect example of a Sustainable circular economy.