India, China seek improved efficiency in biogas schemes
One of the salutary results of increased oil prices during the
1970s was a greater interest in nonconventional sources of energy. India and
China, both pioneers in production of biomass energy, have accelerated diffusion
of biogas digesters in their rural areas to relieve the crisis in cooking
energy. In both countries biogas is regarded as a means of ensuring soil
renewal, environmental protection, and hygienic cooking.
With a warmer, more stable climate and easy availability of cow
dung, India is in a more advantageous position than China for popularizing
biogas. However, as a result of different socio-economic systems and approaches
to programme administration, China has about 7 million biogas plants covering
about 5 per cent of its rural population, while India's 600 000 biogas plants
serve less than 2.5 per cent of its total rural population. But India has begun
giving impetus to its biogas diffusion programme. According to Vasanth Sathe,
India's Energy Minister, over 85 per cent of the Indian biogas plants set up
under the National Programme for Biogas Development (NPBD) launched in 1980 are
in use, while only about 4.5 million of China's 7 million biogas plants are in a
functional state at any given time. Reasons cited by Sathe for the "large-scale
failure and disuse of the Chinese biogas plants" were leakage and corrosion,
massive temperature fluctuations, lack of a well-oiled machinery to monitor and
repair biogas plants, and the latest government policy of promoting high
technology ventures in preference to alternative technology systems, such as
biogas and bullock carts. Observers speculate that the Chinese biogas programme
has been stagnating since 1980.
Chinese biogas plants are much less expensive than their Indian
counterparts. A cost-benefit analysis of China's biogas programme shows that for
an individual household the investment cost of a family-sized biogas plant is
recoverable within a year's time. On the other hand, the Indian biogas digester
originally designed and promoted by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission
(KVIC) costs around US$650, a sum that only rich farmers owning at least five
head of cattle can afford. Moreover, the benefits of biogas technology are
indirect, since biogas plants do not bring in cash income. As a result, even
with large and generous government subsidies and liberal bank loans, the
investment cost is not recoverable in less than four or five years. Chinese
biogas digesters of "fixed dome design" are simple to operate and cost the
equivalent of $25, or about 15 days' earnings for the average Chinese peasant
At present, much of the dung produced by about 260 million head
of cattle in India is made into patties and burnt away as wasteful cooking fuel.
Assuming an average production of 10 kg of dung per animal per day and a
collection rate of 60 per cent, the
amount of dung available in the country in a year works out to
575 million tons, which could generate a staggering 300 million tons of
humusrich manure. As it is, 30 million m3 of biogas equals 20 million tons of
kerosene oil, nearly three times the annual consumption of the commodity in the
country. According to an estimate by the Indian Planning Commission, given the
prevailing land distribution and cattle ownership pattern in the country, there
is scope for installing as many as 15 million biogas plants.
China has the advantage over India in feedstock for biogas. The
Chinese depend mainly on pig and human excreta to feed their biogas plants.
Since pig rearing is one of China's most common household economic activities,
70 per cent of the 250 million pigs in China are privately reared. Most rural
Chinese households are potential customers for biogas. India, on the other hand,
emphasizes cow dung as the feedstock for biogas generation.
In contrast to the egalitarian Chinese approach to the diffusion
of biogas to the rural masses, biogas technology in India has failed to reach
the rural poor. For biogas technology to be viable, the minimum requirement is
four to five head of cattle, but in India only 22 per cent of the 85 million
rural household possess five or more head. This makes the administration of dung
collection and gas distribution extremely difficult As Professor T. K. Moulik of
the Indian Institute of Management, who recently visited China to study the
biogas programme there, notes, "Broadly, India's biogas technology development
programme can be characterized as te, in both the initiative and
participation, while the Chinese process has been largely egalitarian."
Another area of striking difference between India and China is
that, in contrast to Chinese farmers, Indian peasants have yet to grasp fully
the potential of biogas plants to produce humus-rich fertilizer. Indian planning
experts feel that the biogas technology in India is unlikely to make headway
unless the rich farmers in India are convinced that the humus-rich manure
produced in biogas plants is good for crops and soil.
Though KVIC has been busy popularizing biogas digesters in India
since 1950, by the late 1970s there were not more than 100 000 biogas plants in
the country. Those who initiated the development of biogas technology in India
were concerned more with technological efficiency than with the cost element,
construction methodology, or social acceptability. The floating gas holder type
of digester promoted by KVIC, though technologically viable, was rejected by
India's rural masses because of its cost - $650.
Another important difference is that India's floating dome
biogas plant requires about 27 m2 of land for the plant and slurry pit. In most
Indian villages, dwellings are so close together that it is rare to find a
house-hold with sufficient land for a plant. On the other hand, in Chinese
villages, space required for biogas plants have not posed a serious problem.
While in India the biogas programme was imposed from above
without active and meaningful participation of the users, the initiative for the
Chinese biogas programme came first from the peasants of Sichuan province. The
official Chinese policy on biogas encourages initiative and people's
participation at all levels. Thanks to this decentralized strategy, biogas
diffusion in China has become a people's movement. The strategy has led to the
evolution of inexpensive, locally adaptable technology of fixed dome water
pressure bioqas digesters. But the stranglehold of centralization and
professionalization has been so strong on the Indian biogas programme that not
only has the people's participation in me programme been minimal but also
research and development efforts have remained confined to laboratories.
The Indian biogas programme has been making rapid strides since
NPBD was launched in 1980. During 1984 85 against the target of 150 000 plants,
NPBD was able to set up 180 000 units, thus demonstrating the slow but sure
acceptance of biogas by Indian villagers. Quoting several independent surveys,
official sources say that the failure rate of Indian biogas plants has now
dropped to 15 per cent from 40 per cent in the early 1980s.
Taking into account the socioeconomic realities in the rural
areas, India has been vigorously developing and promoting a variety of low-cost
but technologically efficient models. This multi-model approach seems to be
yielding dividends if the latest figures on the spread of biogas plants in India
is any indication.
In the final analysis, both the Indian and Chinese biogas plants
seem to be moving toward me same goal - large-scale popularization of bio-energy
through decentralized, egalitarian strategy and introduction of inexpensive but
technologically efficient digesters.