India is tapping into a new energy source that promises to help clean up smog-choked Indian cities. A vital source of income is provided to poor Indian farmers: trucks full of cattle manure.
Cows are revered as sacred creatures by the country’s Hindu majority. They also hold pride of place in rural communities in India, where they are still commonly used as draft animals.
Rural households have long burned sun-dried cattle manure to heat stoves, a practice that continues despite government efforts to phase it out with subsidized gas cylinders.
Now a pilot project in villages outside the city of Indore in central India is being rewarded for turning in cattle dung to help meet the city’s energy needs.
Farmers pick it once every six to twelve months and there are seasons when they don’t, but the plant could provide them with a stable income.
Sisodia cattle excrement is brought to the factory, where it is mixed with household waste to produce flammable methane gas and an organic residue that can be used as fertilizer.
The plant is expected to process 500 tonnes of waste a day, including at least 25 tonnes of cattle dung, enough to supply the city’s public transport system with whatever remains.
Half will be used to power buses in Indore and the other half will be sold to industrial customers.
Gobardhan’s pilot program has faced a number of logistical hurdles, as poor rural roads prevent trucks carrying manure from reaching farms.
The Indian government has high hopes for this initiative, having promised to install waste-to-gas plants at 75 other sites since the Indore facility became operational.
Cultivating alternative energy sources is an urgent priority in India, which burns coal to meet nearly three quarters of the energy needs of its 1.4 billion people.
For this reason, its cities are regularly among the most polluted urban centers in the world. Air pollution is responsible for more than one million deaths a year in India.