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Sankheda 1.2 MW biomass power plant a success

According to reports, early this week, the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) took a busload of entrepreneurs, academicians and experts in the field of renewable energy (RE) to the tribal belt of Sankhedataluka in Vadodara, for a field visit to the country’s first gasification based 1.2 MW biomass to power generation plant, named Ankur Scientific Power Plant.

However, what is mostly unknown about this two-year old, homegrown, clean energy, sustainable, decentralized, third-party, grid connected power generation plant- the first of its kind venture in India-is that the technology used in the plant is also made by the owners, whose 80% of machinery is exported abroad. And, therein, lies the irony.

“The plant’s feedstock comes from the crop residues of the common crops available in the 20km radius of the site, like cotton, tur and castor stalks and corncobs. The concept prevents burning of stalks in the field, and, rather, gives money to the farmers for selling this residue to us. It has also given birth to a chain of entrepreneurs among locals for secured and sustained fuel supply. Biochar, the byproduct after power generation, is also sold back to farmers either for using as kitchen fuel or for enriching soil for the next sowing. But, despite this win-win concept in an agrarian country, the technology is not getting its due promotion for various reasons, including the preference for solar and wind power projects,” asserts managing director Ankur Jain of Ankur Scientific Energy Technologies, manufacturers of the equipment.

The irony, Ankur says, is that the green power generation equipment plant, which was set up by his father, Dr B C Jain — an alumnus of BITs Pilani and MIT Cambridge, who came back from the US in 1977, leaving a lucrative job behind to work in India-has helped set up similar plants of various capacities, more in countries abroad than in India. “We are exporting equipment to 30 countries, including the US, Europe, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines, Africa and Sri Lanka, but India’s strict regulation regime does not let the technology be put to maximum use though the country’s economy is mainly agrarian,” he says.

Earlier his father’s presentation at a MNRE and UNDP organized workshop on biomass power generation showed how the plant had bought feedstock from farmers and helped give employment to 60 locals, thereby, ploughing back nearly Rs 4 crore to the rural economy. Extension activities helped farmers to use biochar. “But, conditions like no payment for power feed above plant rating, difficulties in scheduling as stipulated by authorities and confusion within bureaucracy for any new venture, are some of the reasons why entrepreneurs get discouraged,” he said.

Apparently, India happens to have toughest of regulations which also prevents such plants for breaking even within 3-5 years, which is the norm in other countries, claims Ankur.

Director, MNRE, V K Jain hopes Sankheda example would help more entrepreneurs become encouraged to set up similar plants in the country.

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