Uttarakhand has developed a new bio-fuel that is used in place of coal, a highly polluting fossil fuel, and provides additional income to locals.
The source of the bio-fuel is pine needles, which fall on ground during summer and cause forest fires because of the high concentration of resin in them.
In a bid to prevent the fires, the forest department initiated a pilot project in Chamoli district where local companies bought pine needles collected by village women at Re 1 per kg.
"On an average, a village woman earned Rs 70 a day this year," said Anil Baluni, vice-chairperson of the state’s environment advisory team, who supervised the project in Chamoli.
Initially, the department tried using pine needles as fuel directly, but it did not work due to the presence of different nitrogen oxides. The department then experimented with burning the pine needles in a closed kiln so that nitrogen compounds could evaporate through hydrolysis.
"The half-burnt material is mixed with cow dung or clay and briquettes are made with the help of machines," said A. Samant, the state’s chief conservator of forests. These bricks are sold to local coal-based industries.
Fifty tonnes of pine needle bricks can replace 30 tonnes of coal at half the price of coal. This saves 71 tonnes of carbon emission, the department officials said.
The government found private players to run the project from the first year. "They have set up collection centres 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.
Baluni said another indication the project had worked was that five companies had submitted proposals to the Uttarakhand government to set up 10MW power plants based on fuel from pine needle bricks.