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Converting Biomass to Energy – Addressing India’s Organic Waste

Ennovent partnered with Veolia, a global leader for optimised resource management, to implement Veolia’s Pop Up programme in India. Pop Up India is a unique program that uses open innovation and co-creation between Veolia and promising startups to address existing business challenges and explore new opportunities with social and environmental impact in India. The first edition of Pop Up India was launched in 2018 and focused on co-creating business solutions in the space of waste and water.

Following the success of its first edition, Pop Up India 2.0 was launched in February 2020 and called for applications from social enterprises working in the waste-to-value sector in India, primarily in feedstock collection for biomass to energy. Currently, as part of Pop Up 2.0, Veolia works with two startups in this space:

  • A2P Energy works towards resolving the paddy straw burning problem by putting up sustainable projects for converting the straw into valuable products like energy and soil conditioners. The business aims to provide value to all the stakeholders starting from the farmers.
  • Krimanshi works on sustainable and unconventional feed systems, by converting food residue and surplus into highly nutritious animal feeds.

We spoke with the founders of both organisations, Sukhmeet Singh (A2P Energy) and Nikhil Bohra (Krimanshi), to discuss the state of organic waste management in India. This podcast is a conversation between Chandrakanth Komaragiri, Country Head – India, Ennovent and both founders, as they detail how organic waste could be better handled in India.

Head here to listen to the entire podcast:

Organic waste is a large-scale problem for India that has not been addressed at the scale it demands. According to the Food Waste Index Report 2021 from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Indian households generated 68 million tonnes of organic waste in 2019. Additionally, every year during October and November, the burning of agricultural waste causes widespread pollution in several parts of India, concentrated in North India. 

Sukhmeet Singh’s organisation regularly deals with agricultural waste. While introducing the nature of their work, Sukhmeet explains that a lot of biomass waste automatically gets used up in animal feed. However, a large proportion of this waste, especially those with high silica or heavy in other metals, is harder on the animal digestive system, and hence they get burned. At this stage, A2P energy intervenes to avoid this waste from getting burned. 

While discussing the nature of their work and the larger context for India, Sukhmeet says, “It is very clear that climate action has become a key topic whether you are in a developing country, or a developed country or an island.” In India, to address climate action, Sukhmeet presses upon the need for policies that promote biofuels and bioenergy, which can replace fossil fuels. Nikhil agrees and rightly points out that we need help from policymakers since most of the organic waste that Krimanshi deals with (from food processing industries, cafes, and APMCs) currently goes to a dumping ground. “The Ministry of Animal Husbandry is currently focusing on sustainable ingredients for animal feed. However, we still don’t have any incentives though we are converting waste into nutritious feeds”, adds Nikhil. 

Sukhmeet also points toward a gap in the carbon market in India. “At an India level, we can start giving carbon credits for biofuels, which could be used in tax incentives or cheaper electricity”, he says. 

While discussing the scalability of their solutions, both entrepreneurs rightly point to how the problems associated with organic waste are not limited to farmers or producers of waste. It is a problem that impacts everyone. So, solutions to these problems require larger-scale support. But, they remain hopeful about the interventions that have been coming up. “Biofuels and feeds from biomass should become mainstream. In the next 3-5 years, we will see many such plants come up in India”, says Nikhil.

As part of Pop Up 2.0, A2P energy is working on a project to utilise satellite imagery to identify crop waste burning in different parts of India, contributing to policy and industrial application interventions to address the issue. 

Along with Veolia, under Pop Up 2.0, Krimanshi is working on setting up India’s largest food waste to insect protein production unit in Jaipur (Rajasthan). They will work with local waste collectors to convert 10-12 tonnes of food waste into insect protein every day. 

Head here to listen to the entire podcast:

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