Enhanced biomass production and energy conversion for use in water-scarce areas of India

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Mechanical Engineering


The provision of modern energy services is an essential part of alleviating poverty in India and the developing world. Traditionally, biomass has been and remains the principal source of energy for many and it is likely to be a major energy resource of the future. However, the distributed and low-grade nature of biomass makes it essential to introduce more effective means of production and use.Biomass production requires water and land which are also needed for other purposes. Therefore it is important to take a holistic view when it comes to making the best use of these finite resources. Rather than viewing energy conversion in isolation, our approach is to introduce technologies having multiple benefits. Thus, we will set up a plantation in the village of Manpura (representative of isolated communities in Rajasthan) to grow crops which can yield not only energy but also food, fodder, soap and botanical pesticides. In Faridabad (a small town in Haryana state) we will grow energy crops but at the same time treat sewage. A small scale tri-generation system, fuelled by biomass, will be developed to provide electricity, ice for food preservation, heat for drying crops and/or pure water for drinking.The development and transfer of these technologies makes use of a great deal of expertise already developed in the UK. For example, the development of the tri-generation system builds on work on refrigeration accomplished at the University of Warwick while introducing the new challenge of making a small-scale device suited to use in developing countries. The work on solar distillation at Aston builds on experience gained in earlier overseas projects but aims to develop UK capacity in this area of growing importance. The combination of sewage-treatment with energy plantations is well tried through recent projects in the UK and Europe; but India presents a whole new set of constraints which need to be taken into consideration.Any technology could fail if specified by the provider rather than by the user and this is especially true when the two are geographically and culturally remote from each other. To minimise this risk, a key element of the work will be the identification of socio-economic success factors through interviews, focus groups and observations in India, facilitated by our partners at IIT-Delhi.The socio-economic study will enable success to be measured where these projects are implemented; but to go beyond that we will carry out modelling, taking into account both the physical systems (plantation, engine, refrigerator, etc.) and the human participants. This modelling will enable us to investigate a variety of future scenarios in which the technologies are implemented.This project is a consortium among the universities of Aston, Warwick, Leeds, Bristol and Coventry with assistance from WRc and in close collaboration with IIT-Delhi.
Description This work focussed on modelling and contributed to a consortium effort. We sought to establish the most energy efficient, cost effective, and environmentally friendly small scale energy systems for rural villages in developing countries, given a certain set of circumstances. The area of interest was the Jharkhand state in India, although the methodology applies to any rural village. Interviews with villagers and non-governmental organisations elicited current energy requirements and identified available solutions available to the rural population. Exergetic, economic, and life cycle models of different hypothetical energy systems were developed, analysed and compared in relation to a `typical' village of 40 families. Energy systems suitable for a whole village were capable of meeting the demand for household electricity, irrigation, and small local industries (for example pulping vegetables or making ice). The system components under analysis included photovoltaic panels, "oil engines" fuelled with oil from Jatropha Curcas (investigated experimentally at Aston University), thermal panels, biomass boilers (IIT Delhi), a heat driven chiller (Warwick University), a work driven chiller, basic food processing systems, and a water still (IIT Delhi). For
the village systems, the life cycle cost of electricity was roughly equivalent to that from a 5 km grid extension. Thereafter, recovery and utilisation of waste heat for revenue generating processes reduced apparent electricity costs; cost estimatesvaried between different methods of analysis. Hybrid systems integrating "oil engines" and photovoltaic panels were
effective because at low loads the engine and generator were not required to run inefficiently. When the environmental
impact from various sub-systems was investigated, electricity derived from raw Jatropha oil performed well. However,
when diesel substitution (necessary while plantations reach maturity) was taken into account, photovoltaic panels
provided electricity with a lower environmental impact. The heat from biomass and biogas both had low environmental
impacts. The systems were optimised with the use of level diagrams; compromise between cost, environmental impact
and energy efficiency were necessary, although a ~50% reduction in the prices of photovoltaic panels and battery prices would enable optimisation of all objectives.
Systems at the household scale - an improved biomass stove, a biogas stove, and photovoltaics coupled with light
emitting diodes - exhibited higher, promising benefit-to-cost ratios. However, village systems showed greater potential for
environmental impact mitigation in the presence of an existing grid connection.
Exploitation Route The published models can be adapted for other energy schemes in developing countries. The models give the "cost" of alternative energy in terms of money, primary energy and environmental impact.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Energy

Description During the grant period, the research student visited IIT India on three occasions and the supervisor on two occasions. Alongside other UK collaborators, we attended two conferences in Delhi organised by Prof Pradeep Sen of IIT and Dr Philip Davies of Aston University, with the purpose of sharing ideas and expertise of rural development.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Other
Impact Types Cultural

Description Research Project Grant
Amount £130,455 (GBP)
Funding ID F00182CD 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2010 
End 02/2013