IOCL’s ethanol plant the answer to stubble trouble
As Punjab and Haryana struggle to deal with the stubble burning menace, Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL)’s ethanol plant at Panipat is being seen as a ray of hope. The ₹766 crore project, which is expected to become functional by August 2021, will covert rice straw into ethanol, a renewable fuel, thus serving the dual purpose of discouraging stubble burning while also providing them returns for their agricultural waste.
Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar had announced the project in November through a tweet, in which he wrote, “This project not only promotes use of environment friendly fuel but also aids in the fulfilment of the government’s goal of doubling farmers’ income.”
The ministry has already accorded approval for the plant and its construction will start in the next few months once the minister formally lays its foundation stone.
HOW IT WORKS
As per IOCL officials, this will be the first commercial project in the country which to directly convert dried rice straw into ethanol. The plant at IOCL, which will be spread across 34 acres of the refinery’s premises, has the capacity to produce 100 kilo litres of ethanol a day from 425.5 metric tons of rice straw. The project is based on indigenously developed technology and will not leave any waste behind and will produce ethanol with negligible emission from the boiler.
Besides 150 technical experts, this plant will provide employment to about 1,200 people, including village-level entrepreneurs and supply chain management. It will also ensure an income of about ₹5,000 to ₹8,000 an acre for farmers who can sell their stubble directly to the government at a fixed price.
WHERE ETHANOL IS USED
Ethanol, which is produced using non-edible agricultural waste left after harvesting, can be used for blending with petrol. The new biofuel policy 2018 had fixed a target of achieving 20% ethanol blending with petrol by 2030 and the government aims to achieve 10% ethanol blending with petrol by 2022. At present, India produces only 3% of its required ethanol. “The plant will help meet our ethanol demand,” said an IOCL official, pleading anonymity. “The ethanol blending will also help cut vehicular pollution,” the official claimed.
CHECK AIR POLLUTION
As per the state pollution control board officials, stubble burning contributes to about 48% of the total emission in Haryana and Punjab. Haryana is the second largest producer of paddy waste in the country, coming only after Punjab. As per the figures, out of 12.50 lakh hectares under paddy in Haryana, about 6 lakh acres were harvested by combine harvesters, leaving behind 20 quintals of crop waste behind.
It is the burning of this crop waste which causes massive air pollution in the National Capital Region every year. In Haryana, most stubble burning incidents are reported from Karnal, Kaithal, Kurukshetra and Fatehabad districts. In 2019, however, the number of stubble burning incidents declined by 35% this year as compared to last year. “No doubt cases have come down but putting a complete check on stubble burning still remains a challenge as farmers will not shun the practice until they get a profitable alternative,” said a senior official of the Haryana agriculture department.
THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING: EXPERTS
As per the current capacity, this plant will be consuming about 4,250 quintals of paddy straw from about 212 acres every day and it would empty about 77,562 acres every year. However, the capacity of this plant is not enough to consume the entire paddy waste from the state. Officials expect that it will be able consume paddy waste within the 50km radius of this plant. “This is just the beginning. More such plants will be set up if this plant will starts generating ethanol,” said an IOCL scientist. As per reports, the Centre is planning on setting up 12 more plants in the country, including Gujarat, Punjab and Odisha.
FARMERS GIVE IT A THUMBS UP
“The government cannot force farmers to shun the practice of stubble burning until it provides them a profitable alternative. This plant will prove helpful as it will purchase crop waste from farmers and ensure that their income increases,” said Ratan Mann, a farmer leader.
KNOW THE PLANT
This is the first commercial project in the country which will directly convert paddy straw to ethanol
Estimated cost of setting up: ₹766 crore
Area on which it will come up: 34 acres
Ethanol production capacity: 100 kiloliters
Stubble consumption capacity: 425.5 metric tons
Employment generation: 1,350 persons
Expected to be functional by: August 2021