Biogas Has Great Potential in Future, feels Sulabh Founder


Any discussion on biogas in India is incomplete without mentioning the contribution of Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder, Sulabh International, who dared to think differently by combining technical innovation with humanitarian principles and social problems. He has pioneered the use of biogas creation by linking Sulabh toilets to fermentation plants, a technology which he had designed over three decades back and which has now become a byword for sanitation in developing countries across the world. One of the crucial features of Pathak’s technology lies in the fact that besides producing odour-free biogas, it also releases clean water rich in phosphorus and other ingredients which are important constituents of organic manure. His sanitation movement ensures cleanliness and prevents greenhouse gas emission. In an interview with Governance Today, Dr Pathak, a winner of awards and appreciations worldwide, talks at length about technicalities of biogas and power generation and their significance in today’s time and future. Edited excerpts:
Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder, Sulabh International

Why do you think the utility of biogas not getting adequate attention unlike solar and wind energy in India?

It’s a gradual process and will take some time to digest akin to the concept of Sulabh Sauchalaya that we coined and brought into practice decades ago. Debating ‘sauchalaya’ before tea was considered awkward way back in 1968 when I was working extensively for the cause, but progressively
people realised its importance, and it is no more an embarrassing issue.It’s a thing of past and the people now view it as a sort of revolution, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for Clean India. Hence, I feel the importance of biogas will catch up aggressively,it’s just a matter of time. The government is doing its part in this regard.

What are you doing to promote the literacy of your ‘biogas technology’ in villages where there is a very rich source of cattle dung and agricultural wastes that produce methane?

I am writing a book, Sulabh Gaon Ki Ore,in which every aspect of sanitation, biogas generation and social issues related to them are being described. For this, we are looking for sponsors who will be given spaces in these books highlighting their family history besides bringing into focus the usage and technicalities of biogas.This would bring down the cost of sending books to all villages. I hope it will be instrumental in raising
the importance of biogas.

Do you think sanitation has traditionally been a politically neglected area?

The blame goes to our culture in which it had been sanctioned to answer nature’s call some distance away from the home. So, when we started preaching about the importance of bringing toilets within home premises, it was not taken receptively. Now people are feeling its importance in the residence itself, thanks to changing needs of time. Hence, it’s an issue of cultural clash. It will take some time  to break the 5,000 years old culture.

Bio Gas Holder

How was the initial response when you generated power from biogas, especially at the time when many people were unaware about the non-conventional energy?

It was wond erful to see street lights illuminating along the three km stretch of Bailey Road in Patna during 1983 to 1990. Even as ordinary people came to know about the real power of this alternative fuel, it became quite popular. I showed it’s possible to harness electrical energy from biogas if you have the will to do so.There are five plants running successfully in Kabul. However, it is necessary that the government shows its  determination to enhance the usage of biogas.

What next for Sulabh? What are the other applications for biogas that you are working on?

We are currently conducting experiments on how to use biogas as fuel in car and other utility vehicles. If it’s feasible it will be a great achievement for India.

We are also putting forward the idea of setting up biogas digesters instead of septic tank at a place where more than 500 people live. It will not only satiate the cooking fuel demand of that particular place but also generate electricity, thus lessening the overall demand of main source of power freeing it for higher end industrial or commercial use.

Is it feasible to install a biogas plant in every village to fulfil its energy demand, taking into account its maintenance cost?

It’s not viable in villages owing to the country’s social structure. Different castes have their own hamlets and it is generally very hard to get them
agree to use common toilets. Also, people in villages show less interest in payingthe maintenance cost for such cause.

Can we plan usage of the biogas fired power for industrial purposes too, if it’s surplus in amount even after domestic use at a residential complex?

It’s definitely possible and there will be no problem. The only thing it requires is extra feed. Sulabh’s plant at Shirdi in Maharashtra is a wonderful example in this regard –it caters to nearly 30,000 people visiting the shrine daily. The economic use of such scale depends on the size of the plant, however the point to be noted is that biogas is an alternate source of energy whose basic function is to help and supplement the main power supply in the form of street lighting etc.

What is per unit cost of biogas power in comparison to the conventional source of energy?

It’s merely Rs 2.50, much less than the conventional source that could be Rs 7-8. However, it depends on the availability and the number of users.

With the boom in real estate sector, usage of biogas can be of great benefit to housing societies and markets. How do you look at it?

Definitely, biogas can be a boon for them, as it has the potential to feed much of the energy demand of a housing society. Every society must have one, which will produce not only energy, but also manure and nutrient-rich water for plants and garden. As such, housing societies can derive multiple benefits from bio gas. Government can issue guidelines in this regard, but if the one is unwilling, how can another impose its views on that? On our part, we are always ready for any assistance that housing societies may need. Even our technology is patent-free which anyone can avail and adopt.

Isn’t there any mechanism to distribute biogas to far flung areas?

There is no such technology as of now, but we are working on it. Fact of the matter is that biogas is very thin and it requires a thick container to carry that makes it heavier, which is not practicable from the transportation point of view. We are working on this aspect and hope to come up with something to cope with this problem.

What’s your message to people in context of biogas usage?

Build a biogas digester instead of septic tank in an area having more than 500 people, as it’s totally ecological and environment friendly. Every component of it, is valuable for the nature, making it a great example of sustainable energy development. It utilizes methane which has harmful impact on environment, to multiple beneficial usages.