HOW RENEWABLES CAN HELP DAIRIES OFFSET COSTS

In a country like India that has around 75 million dairy farms, more than anywhere else in the world, sustainable energy can play a huge role in offsetting rising costs. The dairy network that is engaged in the processing of milk and its products, has affiliations with 15 million milk producers and has a total of 72 million litres per day (MLPD) processing capacity. This fact makes these dairies major energy consumers as they require copious amounts of coal or biomass to process steam. However, this high energy consumption comes at a great cost to the environment. Therefore, the potential for saving steam and minimising power consumption is of the utmost importance.

Renewable energy can help them optimise their energy mix as well as increase their revenues. Projects such as biogas/bio-CNG generation plants using dairy waste and rooftop and ground-mounted solar power plants on the premises can help reduce grid dependency. This led to some dairies taking up the implementation of solar projects and captive co-generation techniques at their plants. 

The Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers Union Limited, also known as Amul Dairy, became a pioneer in the Indian food sector in 2016 by starting a fully automated bio-CNG generating and bottling plant using waste generated at the dairy. They invested Rs. 17.5 million to implement this biogas purification technology and have used the bio-CNG plant to manufacture gas with 93% pure methane. This gas can then be used as transport fuel. 

Following suit, Surat District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union Limited (SUMUL) set up a “dung bank” in the district for the collection of animal dung. They then used this dung to produce biogas and distributed it at a uniform pressure through pipelines to 121 beneficiaries int the city. Whatever dung slurry remained after this process was then used as compost. SUMUL is now extending this programme to other districts as well. Through this initiative, they have gained an additional income of Rs. 1.5 million annually. It has also led to cleaner villages and improved environments across the city.

The central government is also considering a unique solar plan for the dairy sector. In a recent workshop on Solar Energy for Dairy Farmers, Dilip Rath, chairman, National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), said that they are already deploying concentrating solar thermal (CST) technology for dairy processing plants to reduce dependence on thermal energy. With help from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the NDDB has completed over 15 CST installations at the processing plants of dairy cooperatives in Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat, and Karnataka. CST at these sites can improve the annual heat demand of a processing plant from 5% to 15%.

Apart from CST, the NDDB has also started the propagation of solar energy-run village cooperatives across the country. Farmers who have surrendered access to the state-subsidised electricity and opted for solar energy, now make extra money by selling surplus electricity to the grid.

As per IIT Delhi, the current potential of producing biogas from dairy waste is 80.1 million cubic meters per year and for bio-CNG, it is 36.05 million kg per year. This huge potential market can not only improve the energy mix of the entire village-level dairy operations but can also take a huge load off the national grid while also offsetting costs. All that’s left now is a uniform policy framework.


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