A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was recently signed between the HP government and Oil India Limited (OIL) for the production of compressed biogas (CBG) from pine needles present abundantly in Himachal through the process of bioconversion. Oil India Limited will perform trials to assess the viability of producing biofuel from pine needles, and samples for the same will be provided to the Research & Development Centre in Bengaluru through the HP Department of Energy. If the trial phase outcomes are satisfactory, both parties will work collaboratively to develop a new clean power generation source for the state. It has the potential to serve as an important turning point in Himachal's transition to a "Green Energy State" by 2026. "Oil India Limited has assured all-out support to develop a sustainable and new renewable energy system and will also promote R&D for the same," CM Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu stated.
Crafting an Opportunity Out of a Problem
Chir-Pine forest covers about 2841 Km2 and is the most dominant pure forest type in Himachal affected by forest fires yearly. The main reason for forest fires in Chir-pine forests is caused by their needles generating a dense mat of flammable material on the forest floor, which is also not readily biodegradable. Himachal's 1311 km2 of fire-prone territory and over 4000 documented forest fires in 2020-21 highlight a severe concern in the hands of the state government. The abundance of needles in the pine forest creates an ideal environment for forest fires throughout the summer months.
In response, the Sukhu government has launched an innovative approach to produce CBG from pine needles via bioconversion process. This collaboration with OIL has the potential to kill two birds with one stone by addressing the issue of forest fires on the one hand and providing renewable energy on the other. In addition, it can create opportunities to generate jobs; previously, in March, a 50% subsidy for the establishment of a pine-based industry was announced. All of these actions demonstrate Sukhu Sarkar's commitment to resolving the forest fire problem and making Himachal a green state in the process.
Can CBG Even Become a Reality?
The viability of extracting CBG from pine needles will be known in the near future. Biogas is produced through the anaerobic digestion of organic wastes, and the cellulose (organic compound) content present in pine needles, is attributed to the biogas generation, which is quite high in pine needles, making it a good alternative for energy generation projects. Furthermore, grounded Pine needles make biogas production quicker and more efficient. Based on Jaypee University research, the production of biogas from pine needles ranged from 1.41 liters per day in the winter to 7.31 liters per day in the summer. The variation in biogas production is due to a change in the metabolic activity of microbes during the bioconversion process, which is higher in the summer and lower in the winter. Keeping all the above factors in mind, the initiative taken by the Sukhu government is visionary, although its ground reality will be visible after the introduction of CBG production in the state on a large scale if even found feasible.