Stubble Burning: Central Panel Directs 11 Thermal Plants Around Delhi to Co-fire Biomass Pellets

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The Centre’s air quality commission has directed all 11 thermal power plants within a 300-km radius of Delhi to co-fire biomass pellets with coal, saying this can utilise millions of tonnes of biomass, address the issue of stubble burning and reduce air pollution. Paddy straw burning is a matter of grave concern in the National Capital Region and its adjoining areas. Ex-situ utilisation of paddy straw is an important strategy among various means to prevent and control its burning, the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) said.

“The commission directs all the 11 thermal power plants within 300 km radius of Delhi to co-fire biomass based pellets / torrefied pellets. This will ensure ex-situ management of paddy straw, reduction in air pollution and improvement of paddy straw utilisation as an economic resource,” it said. The commission said it conducted extensive stakeholders’ consultations with the NTPC and other state and private power plant operators on the potential use of paddy stubble.

“NTPC, based on extensive trials, confirmed that it is technically feasible to co-fire biomass pellets (up to 5-10 per cent) in thermal power plants without any modification in the boilers,” the panel said. Success in trials conducted offers a huge opportunity for utilisation of biomass in thermal power plants, it noted.

The power plants have been asked to take up all steps to ensure that such co-firing begins at the earliest, the panel added. The first action-taken report in compliance of the direction should be submitted to the commission by September 25, and reports thereafter may be sent on a monthly basis, it said.

“Co-firing has the potential of utilising millions of tonnes of biomass (including paddy straw) in thermal power plants, addressing the issue of stubble burning, reduction in air pollution and using straw as a resource,” the commission observed. Different ex-situ options for paddy straw management include end products such as bio-gas, bio-ethanol, compost, fodder, applications in packaging and paper industry etc.

Paddy straw can be utilised in boilers of industrial units and also in much larger volumes for co-firing as fuel in coal-based thermal power plants. The commission had earlier issued an advisory to Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for establishing a robust and continuous supply chain logistics for ex-situ utilisation of paddy straw.

Paddy straw burning in October and November is one of the major reasons behind high levels of air pollution in Delhi. Farmers say there is a small window of 10-15 days between paddy harvesting and sowing of wheat, and they burn stubble as it is a cheap and time-saving method to manage straw and prepare their fields for the next crop.

Last year, the share of stubble burning in Delhi’s PM2.5 pollution level had risen to 40 per cent on November 1.

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