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Biogas potential in Pakistan

For the last five years, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources (MPNR) has been trying to implement a LNG project of a rather small capacity of 400 Billion Cubic Feet per year (BCFD) and desperately tried to conclude an agreement in this respect in the last days of the reigning government of PPP.

The LNG rates almost as much as that of oil (more than 80%) which it purports to replace, although there are some merits in that project. However, this is not the purpose of this article to delve into that. Similarly, Pakistan and Iran have both been trying to implement the IP gas pipeline project for years. Finally, the project was inaugurated on Iran side of the border without finalising the contract details and amidst vocal US opposition to the project and the murmur by opposition parties that it was a political inauguration designed to take undue credit and creating problems (of sanctions and US disgruntlement over the issue) for the next government. In this perspective, one would like to desperately search for other options including local production of gas. Biogas emerges as a good option, although not a complete replacement of the imported pipeline gas. It is intended in this article to explore the Biogas potential in Pakistan, its strength and weaknesses and evaluate various strategies to avail of its benefit. We will also explore in the end a rather interesting proposal; the prospects of using Biogas in CNG applications, something which CNG owners may love to read as the sector appears to be facing extinction in the wake of the gas crisis.

Biogas is certainly not a new idea. The idea of producing Biogas for cooking has been on the cards for more than three decades in this country. In 1980s, attempts were made in the days of General Zia-ul-Haq to popularise Biogas. The initiative failed on account of many reasons detailing which may not be called for in this article. Several Rural development programme components are still there, which are dealing with Biogas for cooking with various degree of success or lack of it. Availability of cheaper and abundant gas and petrol resources has been one of the major reasons for underdevelopment of the alternative routes and products in the energy field. No more; neither the conventional sources are any cheaper any more and nor are these abundantly available. We have one-third of our power generation capacity under-utilised because we cannot afford to buy Fuel oil within the existing tariff framework, the latter being already too high and unaffordable for most consumers in the country.

Pakistan a country of 200 million people and a large agriculture and a livestock sector (being the fourth largest milk producer in the world) produces a lot of Biomass and the associated waste. Animal dung, agri-waste, food and other Bio industry waste, Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and sewerage could all generate valuable Biogas in addition to solving the perennial waste disposal problems. My estimates indicate that Pakistan has a potential of producing as much Biogas as it currently produces from its Gas Wells in Balochistan and Sindh, a whopping 1.6 TCF per year. Why the potential does remains unutilised?

One may argue that nowhere in the world Biogas is a major source of energy. However, the situation is changing fast. Europeans have decided to generate Biogas to cater to the 20% of their gas requirement from Bio-sources by the year 2020 or so. While Americans are revelling in their Shale gas resource which is projected to last them for more than a century, Europeans produce only 40% of their gas requirements domestically and the rest is imported from Russia and the Middle East. In Europe a thriving and reliable gas market and network is operating based on local supplies and imports. Had their situation being as stark as ours, impetus on Biogas would have been even stronger. In any case, a 20% target is no mean a goal.

Pakistan has a livestock population of over 50 million, which alone produces about 1 million ton per day of biomass (dung), most of which gets wasted producing local nuisance and global environmental problems (global warming due to methane release).This alone can generate 4 billion Cft per day, which is the shortfall that we are facing. Easier said than done? Obviously, all of the potential cannot be converted in gas and put into pipe lines. However, oil and gas demand can be reduced by generating and utilising biogas in many direct and indirect ways.

Presently, small biogas plants are being installed for family needs in rural areas. The effort is continuing for the past many years. We have some 20 million rural house-holds. For 50% coverage, we require 5 million small biogas plants. This means, an installation activity of 500,000 biogas plants per year, if 50% target is to be achieved in 10 years. Due to poverty and capital needs, only a partial objective may be achieved in near future. Government subsidy and loan scheme can make a significant difference. The biggest merit of Biogas plants, especially the smaller ones, is that a lot of employment can be generated for the rural unemployed and landless workers. A reasonably sized Biogas programme say 100,000 plants per year can generate a direct employment of 50,000 workers not withstanding the stimulation of demand in cement and bricks sector. Finally, the motivation to shift from burning of Uplas and shrubs is lacking among the cash-starved rural poor.

However, there is scope for commercial and industrial activity and investments in biogas sector. There are about one million agricultural Tube wells in Pakistan, 80% of which run on diesel. At Rs 100 a liter of diesel, the generators cost Rs 25 per unit of electricity generated. Farmers spend about 600-1000 Million USD worth of diesel annually to buy the required diesel to operate these tube wells. Farmers have started investing in Biogas plants that cost them Rs 0.5 million to run their generators. An equivalent solar tube well costs two to three times more. It is expected that wealthier ones would go for solar and less wealth would be installing Biogas plants.

There are 30,000 large farms in Pakistan employing more than 50 cattle and 18000 farms rearing 200 cattle per farm on the average. Large Farms and cattle owners can produce electricity for others and sell it to the grid. A farm having 1000 cattle can generate 0.5 MW of electricity and a farm of 2000 cattle can generate 1 MW. One can reasonably assume that 1000 such farms can be marshaled to provide atleast 1000 MW, against a total potential of 3800 MW. Activity on this scale would require foreign technology and capital. Europeans would be keen to participate in this market, particularly Germany and Sweden where these technologies are thriving. A government policy would have to be evolved to facilitate all this. However, one is always scared of government policies which render every project expensive and unaffordable, the issue of costly Wind Power being a case in point. Wherever feasible, Biogas after cleaning and removing CO2 can also be fed into the gas network. Several such projects are being considered elsewhere and some are in operation as well. Recently, a Pakistani scientist settled in the US had prepared a proposal in this respect. I am not aware as to what happened.

Concluding, in addition to centralized generation and networks, we should also look into distributed energy options. Most alternative energy technologies are suited for distributed mode except wind Power. Energy security and autonomy is enhanced by distributed applications. Centralized systems are too vulnerable to attack, terrorism and other threats and discontinuity. Biogas has a potential to meet our energy demands in a significant way while augmenting Energy security and self-reliance.

PART-II : BIO-CNG-CNG FROM BIOGAS Bio-CNG is CNG produced from Bio sources instead of Natural Gas obtained from oil and gas fields. One could retrofit his CNG station with a Biogas plant and produce his own gas (Methane) instead of buying it from gas distribution companies such as SSGC and SNGPL. Raw material for the adjunct Biogas plant is to come from a variety of bio resources such as solid and liquid wastes and agricultural residues. In this article, we will explore the possibilities and role Bio-CNG can play in meeting the CNG demand in Pakistan.

Factories are closed down due to non-availability of natural Gas. And there are long lines at CNG stations. CNG dealers criticise and even curse the Minister of Oil and Gas for their problems, but the fact is that there is an acute shortage of Gas. CNG dealers would also want to maintain a price differential of 50% between oil and gas prices in order to be able to maximise their revenues and profits. Even if LNG and Iran Gas Pipeline projects are implemented (a big if), gas prices are not going to be the same as these have been and still are. Both Iran and LNG suppliers are asking for very high rates, which is more than double our current rates.

The morale of the story is to look for the other options and alternatives and develop these and stop living in the dream-world of cheap gas. This is a special message for the CNG dealers and their very vocal association. One would like to encourage them to Bio-CNG. As mentioned earlier, Biogas is nothing new, but Bio-CNG is and has come on the agenda only recently due to developments in technology and market. Biogas has 50% Methane and thus has to be upgraded, for use in automotives, to above 90% for technical and economic reasons. Also some gas cleaning is required to remove sulfur. This has been achieved successfully, technically and commercially only recently. One can now produce CNG at 50% of the price of Gasoline in the US Several commercial projects for self use by the producers have been launched.

To reassure the skeptics, let me also reproduce the cuttings from a news-letter (Bio-Master) on the subject, which shows how active and popular the subject is in many countries:

BIOGAS FROM SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT TO POWER DELHI BUSES

August 2012
Ambitious as it may sound, but Delhi plans to run its buses on biogas. In collaboration with the Swedish government, the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy plans to set up a biogas plant inside Kesopur Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) complex in West Delhi.

INDIA TO TEST THE BIO-CNG PRODUCED FROM BAGASSE IN A COMMERCIAL VEHICLE

February 2013
Under instructions from the Union Ministry for New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Pune-based Automotive Research Association of India is expected to test the bio-CNG produced from bagasse and its use in operating a commercial vehicle.

ENOC SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH DUBAI MUNICIPALITY TO PRODUCE CNG FROM WASTE FOR automotive use

February 2013
Emirates Gas LLC (EMGAS), a subsidiary of Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC), has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Dubai Municipality to treat land and sewage waste to generate compressed natural gas (CNG). EMGAS is now setting up an advanced facility to convert waste to bio-methane, from what is currently being flared, and then compress it into compressed natural gas that will be used as an automotive green.

FIRST ECO-BUS ENTERS SERVICE IN ZALAEGERSZEG (HUNGARY)

August 2012
The first eco-bus of the local public transport company entered service on 27 June. It is fuelled by biomethane, which is derived from the local sewage treatment plant. This action is part of a series of measures which aim to turn Zalaegerszeg into a sustainable town.

TURKU AIMS TO USE MORE BIOGAS BUSES (FINLAND)

October 2012
The city of Turku pledges to use the growing share of biogas to power its city buses. The aim is to make the bus transport within the city as environmentally friendly as possible.

FIRST ECO-BUS ENTERS SERVICE IN ZALAEGERSZEG (HUNGARY)

August 2012
The first eco-bus of the local public transport company entered service on 27 June. It is fuelled by biomethane, which is derived from the local sewage treatment plant. This action is part of a series of measures which aim to turn Zalaegerszeg into a sustainable town.

Ministry of Fuel (MFNRE) in India has approved about 15 projects subsidising up to 50% of the equipment cost of Bio-CNG installations. Local Government of New Delhi has decided to switch to Bio-CNG by producing Biogas from its solid waste facilities and get almost free fuel. Nothing is free though, the amortization costs and operating expenses would still yield a fuel cost saving of 50%. All public transport facilities and projects almost anywhere suffer from high cost issues not sufficiently covered under an affordable tariff. It is said that the newly established Metro-Bus project in Lahore also suffers from the same issue. However, Lahore generates a lot of solid and liquid waste and there should be ample agro-biomass around Lahore to be able to generate enough Bio-CNG at 50% of the Diesel prices. I hope the CM Punjab somehow reads it or get to know about it. Similarly, Karachi or for that matter all major cities can afford a public transport system under a cheaper and locally available fuel, in a country which calls itself an agricultural country. Reportedly, more than 35 CNG Buses procured by the local government of Karachi are in the docks, although for other than cost reasons. But improved economics and lesser fuel costs certainly help.

Although, urban area CNG stations may not be able to benefit from Bio-CNG(except where local government develop projects from organic waste), CNG stations on the highways passing through rural areas can certainly install Bio-CNG facilities. A Bio-CNG plant consumes a lot of space for biogas generation plant, although the same compression facilities as are already available in conventional CNG would be required for compressing and filling Bio-CNG. In Punjab and Sindh, there should be a large number of existing CNG stations that could benefit from this concept. Capital investments of about Rs 10 Million have been estimated for installing Biogas facilities at the existing CNG pumps in rural areas.

A wide variety of Biomass is available; Household and Municipal Solid waste , sewerage and waste water, agricultural, forestry and plant residue. To my knowledge, there is no single location or facility in Pakistan, where solid waste is hygienically and scientifically disposed off, except for some recycling activity self-sustained by commercial recyclers. In most countries particularly in Europe, hitherto, MSW had been incinerated, but now trend is changing towards gasification of solid waste. Waste heat was fed into heat exchangers to supply to the district heating systems or heat utilised in other applications. Incineration has become out of fashion due to environmental reasons as well. Increasingly solid waste is being disposed in Landfills which invariably produce Biogas.

In Pakistan, a number of studies and efforts have been undertaken in the past to generate electricity from Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), but could not succeed due to a variety of reasons including poor economics and comparatively lower Calorific value of Pakistani MSW. Most, in fact all cities throw their MSW in uncovered waste dumps spreading squalor and disease in adjoining areas. Often, it is shamefully and carelessly burnt in the open very close to the residential areas. Any body who has crossed the Korangi bypass at night would know how dangerous this activity is. Bio-gasification and Bio-CNG may improve the economics of collection and disposal of MSW in most communities, especially major cities.

Villages and Rural Centers can replace diesel from their diesel engines of the tube wells. Also, tractors could be switched to Bio-CNG. Where Biomass should be used for producing electricity or where it should be used for Biogas for cooking or for Bio-CNG, would depend on time and space issues and choices of the stakeholders. No policy can be announced promoting or proscribing a certain use, although it is clear that in case of Bio-CNG, the alternative or opportunity cost is much higher, ie Bio-CNG is replacing expensive gasoline and diesel, while there are cheaper options to produce electricity than from Biomass.

Enterprise and innovation is augmented by the economics. A textile entrepreneur in Punjab is reportedly buying several hundred Buffaloes (which in addition to Milk) to provide Gober fuel which would generate Biogas which in turn would be used in electricity generation for his adjacent Textile Mill. The Gober generated Biogas would also be burnt in their Boilers.

Certainly, Bio-CNG would not be a panacea for our energy problems or a one-size-fit-all solution. Cheaper Oil and gas used to be such a panacea and a solution, but no more. But one could expect that a significant portion of CNG demand could be met through Bio-CNG. Localised and segmentised solutions for a variety of users and market conditions may have to be implemented by the private sector mostly, although Government can guide, facilitate and afford some demonstration and early project subsidies. These kinds of solutions such as Bio-CNG, apart from being economic and affordable, also add to our energy security. Imagine what would happen, if oil import facilities or market suffer some kind of blockade or discontinuity, or the law and order problem, affecting the inter-city transport. Biogas is locally produced as would be Bio-CNG.

Concluding, Bio-CNG appears to be an interesting and viable alternative to conventional CNG. Bio CNG should be allowed to grow in an unhindered market environment. Except for quality and safety issues, there should be no regulation, of price or otherwise. It should be the individual CNG dealer's choice weather and where he should invest to produce and sell CNG. However, a government policy would be required to reassure potential investors and the existing CNG dealers that their investment and efforts would not be wasted and that at some point in time, government may start discouraging out. No policy is for ever. Circumstances keep changing and new challenges and issues are to be handled. However, sufficient time and opportunity should be made available before a change of policy stance to enable the investors to recoup their investments. Fortunately, in the case of Bio-CNG, Bio-gasification facility would always have many other alternative markets and usages.

Bio-CNG should be allowed to grow in an uncontrolled market environment. Except for quality and safety issues, there should be no regulation, of price or otherwise. It should be the individual CNG dealer's choice weather and where he should invest to produce and sell CNG.







Akhtarali1949@gmail.com

Copyright Business Recorder, 2013



 



 
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