IIT Ropar IIT Delhi

Two IITs Pioneer Methods to Convert Paddy Straw into Value

With paddy straw burning becoming a critical source of air pollution in north India (specifically Delhi and NCR), two IITs have stepped in with interesting innovations that not just help farmers avoid burning paddy straw, but also convert the paddy straw into something useful.

Farmers in Punjab and Haryana burn millions of tons of paddy straw every year (an estimated 35 million tons) mainly because it is difficult for them to harvest it within a short time span, and also because getting rid of the short paddy stubbles is fairly expensive. While there have been many appeals from central and state governments to stop this practice, the farmers are unable to, as they will not be able to sow seeds for the next cropping season if they do not get rid of the stubble fast enough. And burning it, at least according to them, is the most effective way to get rid of it in a short time span. While in theory the short stubble can also be cut, this could be expensive, and the farmers cannot afford this expense on their own.

Paddy straw currently has some uses, mainly as a low nutrition fodder for the cows but that fetches very little and it might be difficult to sell the stubble in this market. Paddy straw has also already been used for biomass power plants, though this might not fetch much too because power is a commodity.

But what if the paddy straw that is cut is turned into something of much higher value, thus paying for its own harvesting? This is just what three innovations from two different IITs (IIT Delhi and IIT Ropar) are attempting. While it is early days for these innovations, should any of them do the job well, it could be said that they have done a big service to millions of Indians (Delhi NCR alone has a population of over 20 million!).

Here are the details of the innovations to turn paddy straw into something of good value:

Paddy straw to biogas - An IIT-Delhi team has provided technical support to Asia’s first biogas-based power plant which is now operating on paddy straw for large-scale biogas production in Fazilka, Punjab. The system is based on 100% use of paddy straw and has been generating nearly 4,000 cubic metres per day of biogas from 10 tonnes of straw, and the biogas is currently converted to power. While biogas to power in itself might not be very remunerative for the farmers (owing to fairly low power tariffs), converting biogas into bio-natural gas and further compressing it results in something similar to compressed natural gas (CNG), which fetches a good value in the market as a transport fuel (and could fetch higher values in industries and commercial establishments as a replacement for LPG)- Link

Paddy straw to acoustic boards - IIT Ropar has been working with farmers for converting paddy straw to acoustic boards using its patented technology. An acoustic board is a special board made of sound absorbing materials, placed between two outer walls to absorb sound. These can fetch good value as an end product, and this could in turn translate into good monetization for the farmersLink

The third idea is not about creating extra value, but reducing the cost of paddy stubble removal through an inexpensive paddy straw collecting machine - IIT Ropar has developed a low-cost machine that can pay for its operational cost by collecting stubble which in turn can be sold for diverse end uses as noted earlier. Link

Estimates put stubble burning to cause almost 50% of Delhi & NCR's PM 2.5 in its air pollution, during the relevant periods. While it is a challenging task to completely eliminate this process, the IITs' innovations could be one of many solutions used to quickly bring the burning to much lower levels.

IIT Club wishes the IIT teams involved the very best in their endeavours to commercialize their innovations

IIT Club | Last Updated : 11-Jan-20

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