New waste management tech could improve life in rural India: Study - Hindustan Times
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New waste management tech could improve life in rural India: Study

PTI |
Feb 26, 2024 01:38 PM IST

Pyrolysis is a kind of chemical recycling that turns leftover organic materials into their component molecules.

In a paper published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, resaerchers produced a detailed breakdown of how a process called pyrolysis could turn biomass waste like rice straw, manure and wood into a solution for three common problems at once.

Scavengers pick up plastic and metal wastes in the soil.(AFP)
Scavengers pick up plastic and metal wastes in the soil.(AFP)

Pyrolysis is a kind of chemical recycling that turns leftover organic materials into their component molecules. It works by sealing the waste inside an oxygen-free chamber and heating it to more than 400 degrees Celsius, producing useful chemicals in the process.

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In the paper, the researchers from the University of Glasgow in the UK outlined how three products of pyrolysis -- bio-oil, syngas and biochar fertiliser -- could help villagers live healthier and greener lives with more productive farmland.

The research also lays out a series of recommendations for maximising the system's economic viability.

The project began with a survey of nearly 1,200 rural households across Odisha, investigating their experiences of cooking, powering their homes, and farming.

Over 80 per cent of those surveyed wanted to switch from cooking indoors with smoke-producing coal to cleaner options, and access to reliable grid electricity was a priority for almost all respondents.

About 90 per cent said they would be willing to sell agricultural waste to support bioenergy, the researchers found.

The feedback helped inform the team's design for a community-level pyrolysis system called "BioTRIG" which would run on waste and provide a series of benefits for rural communities who live below the poverty line.

The syngas and bio-oil would help heat and power the pyrolosis system in future cycles, with surplus electricity used to power local homes and businesses, the researchers said.

The clean-burning bio-oil could also be used to replace dirty cooking fuels in homes, and biochar could be used to store carbon while improving soil fertility, they said.

Computer simulations of how effective the BioTRIG system could be in real-world applications showed that it could help drop greenhouse gas emissions from communities by nearly 350 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per capita per annum.

"Indoor air pollution is a serious issue in rural India, where cooking with fossil fuels in unventilated residences disproportionately affects the health of women and children," said Siming You from the University of Glasgow.

"These communities are also faced with the degradation of arable land from unsustainable farming practices, and access to reliable electricity is an ongoing challenge," said You, who led the project.

The researchers noted that all these problems have been identified by the UN as targets for international sustainable development goals, and the Indian government has already taken steps to begin addressing them across the country.

"The BioTRIG system has the potential to help address all of these serious problems with a trigeneration approach to turning otherwise unusable waste into three useful sources of bioenergy. Scaled across a nation the size of India, even a modest uptake of the system could have a big impact on climate emissions and public health," You added.

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