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GE takes IISc biomass tech for power plants in the US

According to reports, a home-grown technology to generate electricity using biomass designed by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) is being taken to the US by General Electric for a power plant in California.

GE, which had licensed the biomass gasifier technology that generates electricity from agro waste and wood from IISc, will help Phoenix Energy to set up power plants in the US. GE demonstrated a model at its tech event in Bengaluru over the weekend.

“Technology transfers typically happen from the North to the South. In gasifier technology, it flows from the South to the North,” said Prof S Dasappa at the Centre for Sustainable technologies of the IISc. “GE officials had scouted across the globe and found this platform – power generation from Biomass at IISc. The technology available with us is the best in the world.”

While the indigenous gasifier technology gets a US presence, and has installations in countries such as Zambia, the uptake in India is still very slow.

Bioresidue Energy Technology Private Limited, a Bengaluru-based licensee, has seen one of its projects in Mangaluru shut and another 1.2 mega watt power plant generating below capacity in Gadag due to revenue from electricity distribution companies not matching up with the cost. In Karnataka, it costs Rs 6 to generate a unit of electricity while the power generator is compensated with around Rs 6.40 per unit.

“It is uneconomical to run these plants at this cost,” said Amar Kumar, founder of BETP.  “It is a state dependent policy. What is paid is low compared to the generation costs; it doesn’t work in favour of the technology”.

India has a vast amount of biomass waste – wood chips from trees such as Eucalyptus, coconut shell, sawdust, sugar cane trash and coffee husk that can be converted into energy – used by boilers and furnaces and also electricity for generator sets and for export to power lines. The scientists at IISc estimate that India can generate over 15,000 mega watts of electricity using agro and crop waste of 120 to 140 million tonnes using a distributed model of having 1-6 mega watt power plants across the country.

“There is little parity with Biomass and Solar and other renewable energies. If it happens – this can provide grid quality 24/7 power giving direct and indirect employment,” said Dasappa. “We are looking at level playing field”

Karnataka offers as much as Rs 12 per unit of power generated by solar but pays less to biomass-based gasifier projects.


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