Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Melia dubia for Biomass power production:

Dear friends,

"...Treat wood on par with food"...,

"...change from 'Hydrocarbon economy' to 'Carbohydrate economy'.."

"...Fast woods better than Fast foods"

"...Civilizations flourish in fertile soils' and diminish in depleted soils'.."  

"...policies to lift 'Primary sector' from the 'Tread mill' and place on 'Escalator',

"...cultivation and utilization of trees as an economically viable, ecologically    empathetic, environmentally ameliorative and aesthetically acceptable..." 

By now you might have guessed the person who cleverly uses the likes of above keywords and key phrases to deliver a punch to get the attention of the listeners. He is none other then our Dr.G.Kumaravelu, former Indian Forest service Officer and a well known Forest and tree scientist in India. 

He is the person who introduced Melia dubia for economical upliftment of farmers and the main driving force to popularize the concept of using Melia dubia for biomass power generation.
Trees suitable for biomass power generation should have the following characteristics: Fast growing, drought tolerance, tolerance to grow in all types soil, coppice capability, short gestation period of 2-3 years, with high calorific value, less ash content Etc.,

Casuarina junghuhniana, Casuarina equestifolia, Eucalyptus, Melia dubia, Leucaena leucocephala (Subapul), Prosopis juliflora (Seemai karuvel / Vaeli karuvel in Tamil), Bamboo are viable source of feedstock for combustible type Biomass power plants.

Some major companies, who have established their units in Ramanathapuram, Pudukottai, Sivaganga, Virudhunagar, Tirunelveli and Tuticorin districts with the intention of using Prosopis Juliflora which is seen almost everywhere in Tamil Nadu, as their main biomass material are feeling the pinch now with the high cost and non availability of feedstock. It is not an exaggeration to mention here that many of the biomass power plants had become economically unviable and had to be shut. 

The time has now come for them to establish energy plantations, announcing  'Minimum Support Price' and entering into 'Buy back agreements' to infuse confidence among the farmers.

According to Dr.G.Kumaravelu, Melia dubia (Malai Vembu in Tamil, Hebbevu in Kannada, Konda Veppa in Telugu) is the right choice for establishing large scale energy plantations because of it's excellent utility value as Biomass fuel with good Calorific value of 5,043 - 5,176 Kcal / Kg., lesser ash content of 2.88% and higher fixed carbon content.

Electricity production in Biomass Gasifier / Combustion using 'Melia dubia':
  • Spacing @1.5x1.5m...........-  1740 Plants / Acre.
  • Yield @ 50 Kg/tree after 2 years - 87 Tonnes/Acre/irrigated & fertigated.
  • Yield per year...................-  44 Tonnes /Acre / Year
  • 1MW production................-  24 Tonnes/Day. (Roughly 2Kg for 1 unit)
  • For 365 days.....................-  8760 Tonnes/Year. (Approx.9000 T)
  • If the yield is 50 T/Acre/Year, than for continuous feedstock availability 360 acres (180 acres x 2) of Melia should be planted.
  • Viability: 10 MW plant. So, 3600 acres are to be planted.
  • Profit for farmer:87TxRs.2000=Rs.1.74 Lakh /2 years (-) cultivation + Drip + Fertilizers + Harvest cost Rs.0.74= Rs.1.00 L (i.e) Rs.0.50/year.
  • Cost of production for the mill: Rs.3.50 per unit.
  • Cost of selling electricity - Rs.4.50 per unit.
  • Minimum profit for the company (per unit) - Rs.1.00 
This meagre profit to the power producer is due to the wrong calculation adopted by the Tamilnadu Energy Development Agency when fixing power purchase rate. The agency estimated the biomass cost at Rs.1000 per ton whereas the  present actual cost is around Rs.2500 / Ton.

Apart from sales, the other benefits being enjoyed by the companies are capital subsidy, selling the byproducts  - Biochar and Activated charcoal, availing carbon credit under CDM and the subsidy from Department of Non-conventional Energy.

All is well for the producers and to the power buyers because they are getting  cheap subsidy and power at cheap rate respectively.

All is not well to the farmers since companies are still offering Minimum Support Price of only Rs.1800/Ton/at farm gate even for contract farming (Click the Link:FCRI- Market Current Prices).

Need of the hour is for the Government to take into account the interests of the farmers and fix a reasonable Minimum Support Price on the lines of 'Sugarcane Pricing' every year. In the present chaotic power scenario, our Govt. can also directly participate in the "Power from Biomass programme" like its decision to participate in the ethanol programme of Sugar Industry.

By announcing more procurement price for the feedstock and a reasonable price for the Power produced by the companies, our Govt. will not only solve the present power crisis but also will bring back smiles to the majority voters (sic) farmers.

A.Vishnu Sankar

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Casuarina junghuhniana as intercrop in Melia dubia plantation:

Dear Friends,

Some hard facts about Melia dubia (Malai Vembu) and Casuarina junghuhniana:

  • Melia dubia has very good coppice capability whereas C.junghuhniana exhibits very poor coppice growth, so any attempts for ratoon cultivation of C.junghuhniana will be uneconomical. (For more info: Click here).
  • Mean annual girth increment of above 5 cm places Melia dubia in the list of fast growing plants in the world. It is observed that when planted in rain-fed conditions its characteristic rapid growth declines after 2 years. So to maintain a uniform growth even after the initial years of establishment stage, regular irrigation along with application of fertilizers (if planted in poor soils) is necessary. In contrast, growth of C.junghuhniana  is uniform even in drought conditions and in poor soils. So farmers who are blessed (?) with problematic soils can opt C.junghuhniana or Eucalyptus instead of Melia dubia which has now got more publicity than it really deserves.
  • Casuarina junghuhniana is drought tolerant (survived without water for 6 months in my field) whereas 4% of 2 year old and 1% 6 years old Melia dubia trees perished. So irrigation is must for Melia during summer.
  • Casuarina junghuhniana thrives well in high clay, sodic soil with a pH of more than 9.4 whereas 30% (read thirty percent) of Melia dubia trees dried during severe drought and growth was stunted during monsoon because of water stagnation.
These observations were made from the soil types of my field located in Tirunelveli district and hence readers should bear in mind that findings will vary in different soil types and in different agro-climatic zones. 

We may conclude that Melia is a preferred crop for a good fertile soil and C.junghuhniana or Eucalyptus can be preferred for problematic (high alkaline, Sodic, high clay content and saline soils) and for lands with poor soil depth.

(For more information on Casuarina junghuhniana intercropping with Melia dubia: Click 1, Click 2 here).

 The same Melia dubia ratoon after 1 year:

Casuarina junghuhniana as intercrop in Melia dubia field. 
During severe summer C.J is still green,
 whereas  Melia dubia sheds all its leaves.
A.Vishnu Sankar.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sustainable Energy Development should not be at the cost of Agriculture

Dear Friends,

"Plants for Power plants" is the buzz word now. 

There are news reports that by raising plantations that could be used in biomass power generation, the wastelands in our country could be converted into green lands and farmers will get substantial entitlements and enviable returns.  

There is no question that "Energy is Engine for growth" and 'Bio-energy is Green energy and Clean energy'.  


The word 'Biomass' in this context can be referred as 'Bio-degradable wastes' that can be burnt as fuel. In wood fired Biomass power plants, biomass is burnt to produce steam which in turn is used for power generation through turbines.

The worrying development now in India is that almost all agricultural wastes find their way into furnaces for power production. Our self styled environmentalists conveniently forgot that for a sustainable agriculture a portion of produce must be returned back to our mother earth to maintain a reasonable 'Organic Carbon content' in the soil.  

If this pillage is allowed further then the all important 'Carbon cycle' will get seriously disrupted. It is an irony that the proponents of 'CDM's are availing Carbon credits for this carbon plunder.  

These Biomass Power plants have already started to use Coconut fronds, shell, fiber waste, Cotton stalk, straws and stalks of all the plants, Rice husk, Coffee husk, Saw dust,  Corncobs, Ground nut husk, wastes from all Grams (Red, Black, Green Etc..), Millets, Cereals after thrashing  and whatever things they see on road that can be burned. To their benefit our Govt's Biomass Power Policy clearly define the term 'Biomass' as all field level residues, plantation crop residues and Agro industry residues.

To put it simply all agriculture wastes that once found their way to Agri waste pit in our farm for compost making (FYM) is now moving out to these furnaces in the garb of producing 'Clean energy'. 

In the eyes of the farmer, the 'Rice bran/husk' is a cattle feed and a very good manure for his field. An industrialist view it as an input to extract cooking oil. The scenario is entirely different now as it is viewed in terms of 'Biomass availability' (Kt/Yr), Power potential (MWe), 'Calorific value' (Kcal) roughly 1.5 kg of rice husk yields 1 kwh (kilowatts per hour) electricity), and 'ash content' only. In future you may not get rice husk even for cattle feed also. 

Agricultural residual waste is essential for soil health and their total annihilation for power production is detrimental to the equally all important food production.  In similar lines,Cuban President Mr.Fiedal Castro objects to the idea of converting food into fuel.(Read : Ethanol Vs Poor).

So the need of the hour is a change in our Govt's policy thereby forcing these wood fired biomass power companies to procure trees cultivated exclusively for this purpose directly from the farmers under contractual agreement at a prefixed procurement price.

A.Vishnu Sankar.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Agroforestry for Soil health

Dear friends,

An updated version of the Power-point presentation about ‘Agro-forestry’ (Latest update on 06/05/2012) is available in this blog. This presentation has become so popular with the Agri-netizens that download requests and permission to copy it are pouring in.
The presentation can be viewed by clicking the thumbnail below:
The presentation has the following topics with 76 slides of good pictures and graphic illustrations. Some of them are published here:
1.     The factors influencing the farmers to adopt ‘Agro-forestry’.
2.     Farmer’s misadventure in the cultivation of ‘Money Spinning Trees’.
3.     Agro-forestry for soil health.
4.     Agro-forestry to raise ‘organic carbon’ (O.C) content of the soil.

5.     Measures to enhance soil fertility.
6.     Agriculture also contributes to ‘Green house gases’.
7.     The ‘Carbon cycle’.
8.     The concept of 33% reservation.

9.     The six Agro-forestry practices.
a)     Wind Breakers / Shelterbelts.
b)    Forest farming in shade. (Integration of trees with plants that loves shade).
c)     Alley cropping.
d)    Riparian forest buffers.
e)     Woody crop plantations.
f)      Silvo-pasture.

10.            Cropping patterns for tree crops.
                   I.            Bund planting.

                II.            As contour hedge rows.
             III.            Multitier cropping system.

 11.             Importance of mulching.
12.             List of some fodder giving trees.
13.             List of some ‘Nitrogen fixing trees’.
14.             List of ‘Economically important fast growing trees’ as recommended by the     
           Forest Department.
15.             List of trees that have gained wide spread acceptance among farmers.
16.             List of long standing, hard wood trees that have good market value.
17.             List of 12 trees that are eligible for 'NMMP' (National Mission for Medicinal  
            Plants scheme).

I kindly invite the readers to comment about the presentation 
to improve it for the benefit of all.
A.Vishnu Sankar

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