Increasing global temperatures, rising sea levels, depleting natural resources, air pollution, and decreasing soil fertility are some of the effects of increased greenhouse gas emissions. The uncontrolled use of fossil fuels for generating energy for heating, lighting, electricity, and transportation is the leading cause of releasing greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. Rotting organic wastes in landfills and improper application of animal wastes are also responsible for greenhouse gas emissions.
The biogas industry can provide a holistic solution for waste management, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and combat global warming. The environmental benefits of biogas and its high energy potential make it a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. The biogas industry can play a significant role in mitigating climate change as it aids in creating a circular economy by turning waste into energy for electricity generation, cooking and heating, fuel for transportation, and fertiliser for agriculture.
Reducing GHG emissions
The biogas industry can reduce the world’s GHG emissions by 18 to 20 per cent. The use of biogas for various purposes, such as electricity generation, heat supply, and transportation, can reduce emissions significantly. The biogas digesters use anaerobic digestion to transform harmful organic wastes into renewable energy. If these wastes are left rotting in landfills, they lead to huge emissions of harmful gases, such as methane and CO2.
Moreover, the industry can also reduce GHG emissions from agriculture through efficient management of manure and agricultural waste. The digestate, which is a by-product of the biogas digesters, can be used as organic manure to replace synthetic fertilisers, which account for 13 per cent of agricultural GHG emissions.
Reducing air pollution
Poor air quality has adverse effects on human health and the environment. Long-term exposure to poor air quality can cause cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, cancers, etc. Emissions from vehicles, landfills, and burning fossil fuels for energy are the leading causes of air pollution. Replacing coal with biogas for energy generation can help reduce the emissions of particulate matter by almost 40 per cent. In the same way, replacing petrol with biomethane can help reduce 60 to 80 per cent of the pollution from transportation.
Reducing pollution from landfills
Landfills are the most common method of disposing of waste around the world. Decomposing and untreated organic wastes in landfills can cause severe air, land, and water pollution. This waste in landfills releases harmful toxins into the air, which can severely impact the air quality in neighbouring areas and cause harmful diseases. The chemicals from the organic waste leach into the water resources in the nearby areas and also into the underground water reservoirs. The biogas industry can aid in reducing the burden on landfills. Installing more biogas plants can address the problem of organic waste management, make cities cleaner, and reduce air, water, and land pollution.
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Reducing black carbon from the use of wood fuels
About one-third of the world’s population does not have access to clean fuels. They still use wood and untreated manure for heating and cooking. Using non-renewable wood fuels for cooking and heating accounts for 2% of emissions every year. Moreover, the combustion of biomass leads to indoor and outdoor air pollution and affects the health of these people, especially females, who are more exposed to these toxins. Setting up biogas plants in rural areas can provide access to clean energy and reduce carbon emissions. It can also aid in reducing deforestation as the villagers no longer need to get wood for their cooking and heating needs.
Improving soil health
Improving soil health is extremely important to ensure food security for the growing world population. As the available land for cultivation reduces, there is an urgent need for technologies that increase crop yield. Healthy soil is essential to producing healthy crops with high nutrient values. The use of synthetic fertilisers disturbs soil ecosystems and results in the deterioration of soil health. Moreover, these chemicals pose health risks to consumers as they adversely impact water bodies and the underground water table.
The biogas industry can play a significant role in conserving and improving the soil ecosystem. The digestate from biogas plants can be used as organic fertiliser to increase the organic matter in the soil, reduce nutrient run-off and soil erosion, increase water retention capacity, and improve plant growth. The biogas industry is a good example of the circular economy. It converts waste into renewable energy that can be used for multiple purposes. Even the by-product of the biogas industry can be used as a biofertiliser to return organic content to the soil and improve crop yields. The biogas industry aids in addressing several environmental issues, such as global warming, air pollution, waste management, and depleting soil health.
(The author is the Chairman of the Indian Biogas Association)