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Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, October 28, 2013
What links the world’s oldest tennis tournament, Wimbledon, to the sugar factories in Satara district of Maharashtra?
Compressed natural gas (CNG) – produced from these sugar mills’ waste and being used by a factory that manufactures tennis nets. These tennis nets reached London before the start of the grand slam this year.

The CNG is being produced by the country’s first and biggest biogas digester at Satara, 100km south of Pune.

The digester was set up under Indo-German Development Partnership in 2012 and runs on spent wash (waste fluid) from sugar factories of a local cooperative.

A 1.14km-long pipeline brings the waste from sugar factories to the bio-digester.

“We provide the waste to be used as fuel, and in return, get biogas to run our sugar factories,” said Mohan Bonsale, chairman of Kisan Veer Satar Shakari Karkhana Limited, a sugar cooperative of about 46,000 farmers in the region.

“The cooperative saves Rs. 1 crore every year on treating the waste fuel and also gets assured biogas supply to run the sugar factories.”

About 20% of the total gas generated goes back to sugar factories while the remaining 80% is converted into CNG for sale to the nearby factories.

“One of the factories we provide CNG to produces tennis nets for tournaments, including Wimbledon,” said Felix-Michael Weber, managing director of Green Elephant, the company which set up the biogas digester.

Weber had started Green Elephant in 2008 to generate energy from waste.

The company has also set up small plants under the Pune municipal corporation to generate electricity from municipal waste.

The Satara plant generates gas equivalent to 2.6 megawatts of electricity in a day, which means it saves nearby factories from using 11,000 litres of polluting diesel as fuel.

“As of now, the CNG is bottled and sold to the factories. We have technology to inject the gas directly into pipelines for supply to CNG stations and as cooking gas to homes,” Weber said.

The collaboration also implements the zero-waste concept in agriculture, wherein unproductive use of waste results in a loss of around Rs. 50,000 every year.

The plant has an inbuilt mechanism to convert the end waste into bio-fertilizers, which are sold back to sugar farmers.

This benefits both the farmers’ cooperative and the company.

The company’s income increases with rise in CNG prices as the price of the spent fuel is constant.

The project was financed by the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency Limited. 

The author’s visit to the factory was paid for by the German Embassy, New Delhi.