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Converting 100,000 tube wells to biogas Punjab puts cow dung to use.

Having set up a solar energy park in Cholistan desert and generation units on canals, G/o Punjab is now thinking of running 100,000 tube wells on biogas (gobar gas). It has already shifted 50 tube wells to gobar gas and has raised a study centre under Pakistan Council for Renewable Energy Technologies at University of Agriculture, Faisalabad (UAF). With 32 million cows and buffaloes, yielding over 30,000 tons of gobar daily (117 m tons of dung annually), Punjab has the means to do it. This volume of dung can produce about 16 m cubic meters of bio gas daily (about 6 b cu m annually). A tube well consumes 25 to 40 cu m gas daily. However, tube wells will also be run on diesel for about 5 hours daily. With gobar gas running them for 80% time, it would save about $300 million worth disel yearly. The savings could quickly multiply if Punjab manages to double or triple the number in next few years and it would lower their operating cost.

Once the process is viewed by masses as 'right' and becomes successful, around 900,000 tube wells running on diesel would shift to biogas in Punjab and change farm productivity in the province. The project has the potential to solve three major problems of agribusiness: energy, water and cost of production. But use of dung (gobar) on large scale also faces a big social problem - dung handling and other janitorial jobs are confined to a small group called 'sweepers' (choorray in Punjabi). Farmers, especially the relatively affluent (those owning a tube well) would generally not be ready to do this. The concept thus strikes at the heart of feudal social norms. So how fast will this social change happen, will hugely impact the project's future. At operational level, the dung supply has to be dirt and fodder free. Otherwise it can result in expensive re-digging or remaking. So dung collection and its handling will be a big social hurdle.

Only comparatively more educated or trained persons, with stakes in running the system, can ensure its smooth operations. Even in India, the concept had failed at operational level. China is the only biogas tube well success story in the region because of different social norms and training. So far, local success stories are confined to UAF, where such a tube well has been running for many years. 40 out of 50 gobar gas tube wells put up in last six months are still running as their warranty is alive and the contractor keeps them running. Only after the year long warranty is over can one judge their validity and relevance to our life patterns. Driving these tube wells into the hearts of rural population would need different vision and planning. Large scale use of gobar gas would require technically trained workers. There are also certain pre-requisites: Firstly, all have to be on one page, advocating for energy and resources needed for success. Secondly, politicians have to promote it.

Thirdly, big farmers and political people need to promote it as a 'standard source' of energy. Finally, the province must not abandon it and be made permanent part of agricultural governance because of huge benefits it can give to productivity and business.

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Publication:Pakistan Engineering Review
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Feb 15, 2014
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