At the Art of Living ashram on Bengaluru’s outskirts, nearly 5,000 people are fed every day. Head out back to your living quarters, behind their kitchen and you’ll spot a biogas plant, as is the case with many large scale kitchens these days.
Look closely and you’ll find that this biogas plant is different. There’s a tiny antenna jutting out of its body. And there’s some circuitry inside. The plant rarely goes down and takes much less maintenance compared to traditional biogas plants.
Across India, there are 35 such systems — all connected to a common network over the internet. Some 30 km away, past the grid locked Silk Board junction in southeast Bengaluru is the tiny office of a startup with large ambitions from where each plant’s health is being monitored constantly.
GPS Renewables, the startup which has come up with this solution, is taking the process of making biogas into the future. “There’s a lot of biodegradable feedstock in India but it’s severely underutilised. It’s all a big mess,” says Mainak Chakraborty, the co-founder of GPS Renewables. Biodegrabable feedstock, as in organic waste that homes, hotels and large establishments generate.
This is primarily because biogas generation has to have massive scale — a standard plant is of at least 3 tonnes a month — to turn financially sustainable. “The standard approach of processing thousands of tonnes at a single centre is not possible in India because of traffic and other problems,” says Chakraborty, adding technology can make de-centralised processing possible. “ has to co-exist with people.”
A network of connected bioenergy plants will not only solve the “big mess,” but also take care of the garbage problem to a large extent if Chakraborty succeeds in his mission. In a few months, we’ll know for sure. Chakraborty and his team are starting an ambitious project in Mumbai, to make energy out of at least 100 tonnes of biowaste (today, it handles 50 tonnes at its 35 plants).
India’s financial capital, Mumbai, a.k.a the city that never sleeps, generates nearly 12,000 tonnes of waste every day. Out of this, at least 5,000 tonnes are organic and can be used to generate energy.
GPS renewables has recently raised nearly Rs 3.5 cr to implement the project’s first phase during which nearly 20 tonnes of biowaste will be processed and converted to energy by these plants. Chakraborty wouldn’t name the investor, but will say that Tata Trust has agreed to support the Mumbai project (this isn’t in the form of money).
“With them we are building the entire plan for the city. Get necessary stakeholders on board– that’s where they come in,” said Chakraborty, an IIM-Bangalore alumnus. The startup has identified sources of nearly 300 tonnes of organic waste and earmarked areas around Powai as its testbed. “Once we showcase the success, the idea is to push for better segregation efforts in the city.”
He co-founded the company with Sreekrishna Sankar, his batchmate from the management institute in 2012. The idea is to use technology to effectively decentralise biogas production. If done efficiently and if it can be scaled, this can help cut down on the problem of garbage disposal.
The team has also won awards at multiple sustainability forums including one at Sustania, a global platform for sustainable solutions. It’s systems are currently installed at kitchens run by Taj Hotels (Chennai) and ITC Hotels (Delhi) as well as the mega-kitchens run by the Akshaya Patra Foundation in four locations in different parts of the country.
The startup with a 35 member team now, has been running on seed money raised from Venture Factory (now i2India) as well as a Rs 50 lakh research grant from the government.
The cost of a plant varies from Rs 8 lakh to Rs 50 lakh, depending on its capacity. “It is priced in such a way that the payback period ranges from 2-3 years,” said Chakraborty, who has applied to patent their innovations.
The company’s speciality is that it has figured out certain parameters ranging from temperature to biochemical conditions inside the digester to make sure that it is in good shape. This data is monitored remotely to ensure maximum uptime.
“We can even talk to the plant. For instance, we look at how much gas is generated, if someone is not using the gas, it is automatically compressed and stored in the site or cleared out. You can see all this online,” he said. The biogas produced can be used to replace cooking gas used in hotels, for thermal applications (boilers, for instance), or for electricity generation. The physical waste left behind can be used as soil conditioner and liquid fertiliser.
To be sure, generating bioenergy or wiring them up to the ‘Internet of Things’ can’t be the sliver bullet to the mounting garbage problem in Indian cities. It can only lend a helping hand.
Also watch: Mainak Chakraborty on ‘The Internet of Biogas’
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