A Waste-to-Energy plant that has been in the process of being established from a long time can help Bengaluru to shift to cleaner energy
Chandana, the chief engineer for the upcoming Waste-to-Energy (WTE) plant in Kannahalli looks around the dim meeting room of the Kannahalli Waste Management Plant, as she explains in technical terms her plans to establish the WTE plant. Her eyes light up with excitement as she speaks about how it will be a big step towards green energy production in Bengaluru. The large room is filled with a peculiar stench due to the processed waste which one can associate with rotten vegetables.
“I submitted a proposal some time ago and it was approved by the government. The construction is going on and in some time it will be ready. I have studied various such models and came up with solutions that can make the plant better and more efficient. Even this smell of the rotting garbage that we have now will be gone,” she said.
Bengaluru is the third largest city in India, filled with lakhs of people. The city currently depends on thermal energy with a large amount of electricity produced by non-renewable sources. But the Karnataka government has been trying to shift to renewable energy sources since a long time, to make energy production greener and environment friendly.
Using non-renewable sources of energy is harmful for the environment as it produces greenhouse gases and the by-products cause harm to the environment. In the long-term it can also cause health problems in humans.
One way of producing renewable power and dumping the large amount of waste generated in the city, is a Waste-To-Energy plant. It will be a big shift for the city towards green energy production and a good method of using the waste that currently goes to landfills after being processed.
Chandana says that the city will be able to produce environmentally friendly energy once the plant starts.
“The plant can process 1000 tonnes of waste per day and produce 14.3 Mv of energy in a day which will be supplied to electricity board as per the initial plan,” she said.
The plant is still not ready to function. According to Chandana it will take around 2 years more to get the plant working which is still under construction.
“Construction is a difficult part for the setup. It will lake approximately 28 months from now to start functioning,” she added.
As any metro city, Bengaluru produces a lot of waste. A study published by B.P Naveen in Nov. 2021 says that with an estimated population of 8.4 million people, Bengaluru generates roughly 4500MT of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) per day at an average of 0.5 kg/day/per capita. The waste now mainly goes to landfills which in long term can be very harmful for the environment.
Bengaluru has been trying for the shift for a long time. Bruhut Bangalore Mahanagar Palike (BBMP) had granted 20 acres of land on a 30-year lease for this waste processing plant back in 2011, but it was delayed due to local opposition and other concerns. Another waste to energy plant was setup in Bidadi in 2020 by B.S Yediyurappa which is said to start functioning by the end of 2022.
Using of traditional energy sources pollutes the environment and also contributes to climate change. According to a report Karnataka used 14000 MW of energy in March 2022 after averaging a usage of 11000-12000 MW during last year. Karnataka energy department states that Karnataka has a capacity of producing 139 MW of biomass energy.
A waste to energy plant is a setup that allows the conversion of waste into energy. It consists of a set of chambers which is connected to a generator. First the waste is sorted and put into a pit, then it’s moved to combustion chamber through a conveyor belt. The heat produced in the chamber is passed to the next chamber which contains water. This coverts water into steam that moves turbines of the power generator and then the electricity produced is distributed.
A report state that Waste-To-Energy facilities are a safe and technologically advanced way of disposing of waste. It minimises greenhouse gas emissions, provides clean energy, and recycles metal which are separated. Waste-to-Energy is widely acknowledged as a technology that can aid in climate change mitigation. This is because, unlike a landfill, garbage combusted at a WTE facility does not produce methane. Instead of being thrown away, the metals that would have been dumped in the landfill are recovered for recycling.
Environmentalist Dr A.N. Yellappa Reddy says that this method of producing energy can work if proper precautions are taken. He states that it can be a sustainable setup for green energy if it is constructed with planning and all the scientific methods are used properly.
“If the garbage is incinerated during burning, necessary precautions should be taken. Burning plastic and other unwanted things will certainly emit harmful gases. A solution to this problem is segregation of materials, so, the unwanted materials are not used in the process,” he added.
In Bengaluru Only around 60 percent of waste is collected, and only about 15 percent of waste is treated before being placed in landfills.
There are many companies too in the city that provides green energy solutions but mainly to industries. Companies like Ogreen and Get Green Bio Energy are based in Bengaluru which provide green energy solutions to business organisations and homes in the city. Get Green Bio energy installed such facilities in many commercial and domestic places. Holy Ghost Church in Richards Town, Bengaluru, uses the technology to fulfil their energy needs.
“We work for green energy production and have installed these products in many industrial areas which reduces the harms to the environment,” said a spokesperson from Get Green Bio Energy.
But as with anything, there are disadvantages for using the waste to energy setup too. The main problem is the carbon dioxide emissions due to burning of waste. According to Krishna Raj these can at times are as harmful for the environment as the use of fossil fuels to generate energy. The mass burning waste also leads to non-recovery of reusable materials like minerals and wood, if proper segregation of materials is not carried out. The WTE can also lead to a reduction is recycling initiatives.
Gayathri from Waste Management Trust says that the plant will not be a successful method for a shift to green energy for the city.
“The government has been trying to setup this plant in Bangalore since 2014. The basic premise of a waste to energy plant is that they burn garbage and use it to produce energy. It’s just like shifting the waste from the landfills to air. Many reports state that due to the Okhla waste to energy plant many people living in the vicinity suffer. If that was a successful think there would be many places using this setup,” she said.
Gayathri added that the setup requires a large amount fuel and man power just to transport the waste to the facility.
She said, “Imagine you are carrying around 5000-6000 tonnes of waste for a large distance as these plants are located in outskirts of the city. Our wet waste contains a lot of water compared to other countries in the world. 80 percent of the waste we generate is water. By the time it’s carried to the plant, the waste starts disintegrating. It sometimes takes 3-4 days to reach the facility. hen, you need to dry the waste too, which takes more energy. So, to produce energy you are using more energy,” she said.
Some experts also say that even biogas which is a good way to get energy is not sustainable at a larger level to provide electricity.
Ganesh from Waste Management Trust says that he thinks that biogas can’t be used at a larger level to provide energy. He said that the energy we get from a biogas plant is lower compared to the waste products that are used to generate energy.
“Around 1 cubic centimetre of waste can produce just 2 KW of energy that can’t even provide electricity to a medium sized house for more than half an hour. But large-scale electricity generation might be a white elephant with this model as you won’t get sustainable amount of power. But the gas can be used as a cooking fuel and powering small establishments. The Pyramid Valley, near Kanakpura uses biogas as cooking fuel very efficiently.,” he added.
He stated that biogas is a green way to get energy as biogas is mainly methane which is burned to convert it into Carbon dioxide and hydrogen. According to him this is also a good way to dispose methane gas from the environment.
However, the WTE setup is used very efficiently in Countries like Sweden. This shows that we can shift to green energy production which can be sustainable. According to reports only one percent of the total waste generated in Sweden reaches the landfills. Sweden has turned its waste into a profitable venture using to a national recycling system. Sweden also imports waste from other countries that is used for power generation. The report states that Sweden converts 52 percent of the waste generated is used to produce energy and the rest of the waste is recycled. The amount of energy generated from waste alone provides heating and electricity to a large number of homes.
According to Gayathri Sweden uses this method very efficiently. They take precautions to reduce the pollution that can be caused by this setup.
“If managed scientifically and process is controlled, a WTE plant can be used for green energy. The pollution can be controlled using scrubbers which can absorb the particulate matters. In Sweden, they do this. Comparing the Sweden and Okhala plant, the gas that comes out are very different. Energy can neither be created or destroyed, same stands for materials. In Sweden the population is also less so they can use this method sustainably. There waste is segregated in 11 categories and the leftover solid waste is used to produce energy,” she added.
Bengaluru can use these methods and follow a path to more cleaner energy production. Some solutions of the problem can be using other renewable sources like solar energy.
Yellappa Reddy says that Solar energy is also a very good method to shift to green energy and many places in the city are using the setup.
“Use of solar energy in all government buildings will help to save energy and reduce the requirement of the thermal energy,” he added.
Lokesh, manager form EcoSoch Solar, a solar plant company in Bengaluru says that solar energy is a very sustainable and green way to produce energy The company provides the setup to both domestic and industrial use and says that it is a successful model to get alternative energy for daily use.
“It has low risk for the environment as it is a renewable source of energy,” he said.
Other solutions to reduce the harmful effects of the plant include gasification (a method where waste is processed at high temperature without burning it, which produces combustible gas which can be used to generate energy). Anaerobic digestion is another way to use the waste without burning it to produce energy. In this method the waste is broken down by microorganisms in a tank devoid of oxygen. The final product is methane rich biogas which can be used to derive energy.
Gayathri says that the other methods can be used for green electricity but not on a very large scale. She added that she doesn’t think that the WTE setup will work in Bengaluru even if it’s started using more scientific methods due to gaps in execution of such projects.
“None of these plants have worked successfully in India. These setups work good abroad but in India, there is no proper implementation. There is just enthusiasm to start something new. In big states like Karnataka, which is considered to be wealthy, these big projects are pushed. Economic viability of the waste to energy plant will be negative according to me. It can only be seen as a waste disposal unit that’s why many people are opposing it,” she said.
But Chandana says that she thinks that it will be successful once it is started. She added that she has thought about the environmental impact of the plant and has come up with some solutions to make it more environmentally friendly. She plans to segregate the waste into various categories and incinerate the waste she receives with proper precautions. Her plan also includes installing air purifiers which will help to get cleaner gases. She is also planning to introduce methods like gasification for the process.
How this WTE plant help Bengaluru to shift to green energy successfully is a matter of waiting. With proper planning the WTE facility in Kannahalli may change how the city gets energy and manages waste but it may also have repercussions on the environment if the process is not overseen and executed properly. However, there are other sources like solar, wind and hydro energy that the city can tap into for this ambition of shifting to green energy which can expanded to a larger scale.