A power plant fuelled by waste products and solar energy could provide researchers with a business and technological blueprint capable of addressing rural poverty across India.
Business and engineering academics from Aston and the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi are overseeing the construction of a combined heat and power plant (CHP) in a remote village in northern India.
Fuelled by crop waste such as rice husks and prosopis wood the 300kw biomass-solar plant will provide heat, steam and electricity to downstream plants, which are also being built as part of the three year project. This includes a rice mill, fruit and vegetable processing plants and a water distillation unit. The combination of solar and biomass power will reduce fuel consumption while allowing round the clock operation.
The plant will allow regional farmers and their families to access a cheap, renewable and reliable energy source that in-turn can help remote villages to generate an income and escape from a cycle of ‘fuel poverty’. The research team wants to use this pioneering project to create a blueprint for renewably powered combined heat and power boilers, capable of being replicated throughout India.
This blueprint of work will include:
Mapping specific regions to assess access to existing biomass and renewable energy resources to ensure there is no conflict with existing land for food production
Engaging with communities to assess specific business needs and assessing attitudes to the need and potential of proposed energy technologies both current and future
Creating a reliable and small scale CHP system which can be used in the long term by communities and replicated easily in other areas.
Dr Prasanta Dey, Reader in Operations Management (ABS) said: “We want to develop a holistic business model which can be replicated to grow wealth in rural communities. In India, over 70 per cent of people live in rural communities. We believe this project will empower and benefit the villagers involved, create sustainable rural development and encourage entrepreneurialism.”
Dr Philip Davies, Associate Dean of Research (EAS)said: “A reliable and readily available energy supply is critical for economic development. Bringing renewable and sustainable energy supplies to areas of rural India can ensure we can help people escape from a cycle of poverty. Most India farmers are small holders with limited technology for processing and preserving food. Reliable energy systems are needed to power such technologies and at the same time create employment. This research will create a wealth of ecological and economic benefits along the entire biomass chain, and will offer valuable new research in an evolving industry.”
The three-year, £3m Science Bridges project, is being supported by Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the Indian Department of Science and Technology (DST). The project will also investigate renewable biomass technologies in the United Kingdom, which are being developed by Aston researchers.
Words by Alex Earnshaw
27 June 2011