Uttranchal has probably given India a new bio-fuel to be used in place of coal, a highly polluting fossil fuel, and also provide additional income to the locals.
The source of the new bio-fuel are pine needles that fall on ground during summer months and are a cause of forest fires because of high concentration of resin in them.
In a bid to prevent fires, the forest department initiated a pilot project in Chamoli district where local companies bought pine needles collected by village women at a rate of rupee one per kilogram. “On an average a village woman earned Rs 70 a day this year,” said Anil Baluni, vice-chairperson of state’s environment advisory committee, who supervised the project in Chamoli district.
Initially, the department thought that pine needles can be used as a fuel switch directly but it did not work because of presence of different nitrogen oxides. It was then the department initiated an experiment to burn collected pine needles in a closed kiln so that nitrogen compounds can evaporate through hydrolysis.
“The half burnt material are then mixed with cow dung or clay and briquettes are made with the help of machines,” said A Samant, state’s Chief Conservator of Forests. These bricks are then sold to local coal based industries.
Fifty 50 tonnes of pine needle bricks can replace 30 tonnes of coal, at half the price of the latter, and would mean saving 71 tonnes of carbon emissions, the department officials said.
In the first year itself, the government has found private players to run the project. “They have set up collection centers for pine needles and kilns to make bricks,” Baluni said. For each tonne of needles collected, the private player is required to pay the government a royalty of Rs 20 per tonne.
Samant said thousands of tonnes have been collected from 18 forest divisions since April when the project started and bricks are being made to provide local industry the fuel for rest of the year.
Baluni said that another indication of the project has worked is five companies submitting proposals to Uttranchal government to set up 10 MW power plants based on fuel from pine needle bricks. “The proposals are under consideration,” he said.