In a bid to aid the efforts of the Centre and State governments in containing air pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR) due to stubble burning, NTPC Limited had started procuring biomass pellets made from farm stubble.

The aim was to provide farmers an incentive for not burning the farm residue.

A Power Ministry statement said that NTPC had envisaged consumption of five million tonnes of pellets in the current year at its 17 power plants including NTPC Korba (Chhattisgarh), NTPC Farakka (West Bengal), NTPC Dadri (Uttar Pradesh), NTPC Kudgi (Karnataka), NTPC Sipat (Chhattisgarh), and NTPC Rihand (Uttar Pradesh).

But sector watchers say there is scope for much improvement to meet the desired outcome of reducing air pollution.

“NTPC tenders had called for biomass pellets that are either raw or torrefied (heated and dried, but not combusted). But there is no proper technology around which can torrefy paddy straw,” a participant in the NTPC tender process said.

“If we talk about raw pellets, NTPC has mandated for only two plants to source at least 50 per cent of their farm produce from Punjab and Haryana. Now since paddy straw is not mandated, mustard husk and groundnut shell from closer to the Rajasthan border is making its way into the bidding criteria. Paddy straw husk is coming from a lot further and more processing is required for it, then it is not as competitive. This approach is not really solving the farm stubble burning problem from around the NCR,” he added.

Commercial scale

According to another official in the know, NTPC had started commercial scale firing last year at Dadri, it has consumed about 8,000 tonnes of agro residue-based pellets, which otherwise would have contributed to farm fires. It is equivalent to approximately 4,000 acres of farm fires.

“This year NTPC is in the process of procuring 5 million tonnes agro-based pellets. The notice for inviting tenders has already been published. To improve farmers participation the tenders are open for them, in addition to entrepreneur or start-ups,” the official added.

Monetary incentives

“Farmers were unaware of how to offer their farm residue. They were particularly finding it difficult to process it and convert it into pellets that can be consumed by NTPC’s power projects,” another official said.

According to Suvrat Khanna, Co-Founder and CEO, Verve Renewables, the problem of farm stubble burning can be addressed by offering better monetary incentive to farmers.

“The problem of farm stubble can be solved only by turning it into a commodity. According to official estimates, there is around 30 million tonnes of agricultural residue that is going to be generated only in Punjab and Haryana every year and this is expected to double by 2030. Blaming the farmer for burning the stubble is not a solution,” Khanna said.

Khanna said his company is aiming to supply 150,000 tonnes of farm residue. “It will be collected by roughly 100 different balers who each will give around 1,500 tonnes of material this season,” he said.

“We are currently supplying processed stubble for power plants in sugar mills. If these power plants get a remunerative tariff from the electricity regulators, then the demand for farm stubble would go up and so will prices. This will be a more viable solution to the stubble burning problem,” he added.