The biomass industry has smelt business opportunities in Death. It’s pitch to the government and authorities: use biomass briquettes made from agri-waste for funerals, in the place of wood to the benefit of everybody. 

The Confederation of Biomass Energy Industry of India (CBEII) wrote to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs seeking approval for utilisation of CSR funds for the modification of cremation pyre cage, which would cost about ₹1.5 lakh per cage.  

“We request MCA to include utilisation of CSR funds towards modification for eco cremation pyre, and issue amended guidance notification,” the Confederation wrote to the Ministry on September 4. 

Its wish has been granted. On October 12, the Ministry issued an Office Memorandum, pointing out that Eco cremation “is already covered under liberal interpretation framework item no. (iv) of the Schedule Vll of the Companies Act, 2013.” 

The Schedule mentions “environmental sustainability” among activities that count as Corporate Social Responsibility. The OM stresses that the items mentioned under Schedule VII are “broad-based and can be interpreted liberally.” 

Many state pollution control boards have issued advisories in favor of using biomass briquettes for cremation. 

The shift from wood to biomass in cremations seems to be driven by the efforts of Lt General Monish Ahuja, Managing Director, Punjab Renewable Energy Systems Pvt Ltd, who is also the Chairman of CBEII. PRESPL, which processes 600 tonnes of biomass daily, tasted success with the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation, which has modified 62 pyres at 24 crematoriums, replacing wood with biomass briquettes at over a thousand funerals between November 2022 and July 2023 (for which data has been provided). 

Extending this model across the country will be highly beneficial to both the environment and the economy, said Ahuja. To support this view, the Confederation calculates that about 10 million people die in India every year; 75 per cent of the dead are cremated. Each cremation takes about 400-500 kg of wood. A kg of wood has an energy content of 2500-3000 kCal, compared with 3600-3800 kCal of biomass briquettes. As such, you can use less quantity of biomass, which, according to the Confederation, is significantly cheaper than wood. Wood costs between ₹10 and ₹20; comparatively, the prices of briquettes offered on the platform,, are: ₹7.4 a kg for sugarcane and wood mix briquette; ₹7.3 for groundnut and wood; ₹6.3 for groundnut shell, ₹5.1 for soyahusk and ₹4 for paddy straw. 

While saving trees on the one hand, using biomass briquettes for cremation can support the fledgling, rural-centric biomass briquetting industry and also tackle the problem of disposing of agri residues. 

Today, the biomass briquetting industry is growing rapidly, as the key problem of the supply chain is getting solved, primarily because the marketplace is evolving; assuring demand and supply. The 3-year-old start-up, BiofuelCircle, which provides a platform for sellers (farmers) and buyers (mainly, briquetting companies) has garnered over 6,000 users, who have bought and sold 3 million tons of about 70 varieties of biomass briquettes.  

The demand for agri-residue briquettes is growing; using briquettes for cremation can further boost this demand, says CBEII.