One company is making waves in renewable energy circles with its low-cost organic fuel technology.
THE late Tun Ghafar Baba was known for his folksy politics. His speeches were simple but he delivered the messages with dry humour and blunt irony. Among his pet peeves were slothful farmers and wasteful expanses of idle land in rural areas.
Tongue in cheek, the former Deputy Prime Minister used to chide villagers: ?You too can be rich, if we can just find a market for all this lalang (weed grass) and keladi bunting (water hyacinth) around you,?
Ghafar, the country?s longest serving MP (Jasin and Batu Berendam) passed away in 2006 at the age of 76 ? not realising the current value of lalang and water hyacinth ? as organic feed to produce clean, renewable energy.Power from weeds: Water hyacinth is a key component feed for the Serigas energy plant in Bangalore, India. The plant processes the common weed and other organic wastes to produce methane biofuel.
He would have been amazed that a variety of weeds along with waste from farms, kitchens, slaughterhouses and even humans, are now being turned into highly purified combustible natural gas that can be used for cooking, power electric turbines and even as fuel for vehicles.
Scalene Greenergy Corporation in India, has developed an organic fuel technology that can be utilised at a relatively low cost.
The company is currently making waves in the renewable energy circles with a continuous stream of visitors from all over the world to its 670sqm gas energy plant, located within its research campus in Bangalore.
Biogas is the result of the anaerobic digestion (decomposition without oxygen) of organic matter. It usually comprises methane and carbon dioxide, with traces of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and nitrogen.
It is not something new. Assyrians used biogas to heat bath water as early as in the 10th century. In the 17th century, Belgian chemist Jan Baptita Van Helmont discovered that decaying organic matter produced flammable gases. Italy?s Count Alessandro Volta noticed the link between the amount of decaying organic matter and flammable gas produced. British scientist Sir Humphry Davy found out that cow dung emitted methane.
In rural India, where biogas or gobar (Hindi for cow dung) gas is widely used as cooking fuel, the first anaerobic digestion plant was built 152 years ago, in a Bombay (now Mumbai) leper colony. But since then, except for newer construction materials, piping and such, there has been very little change in the process and also not much difference in the quality of the gas.
?It has largely remained a simple technology. Bacteria digest the organic matter and produce biogas,? said Dr Rajah Vijay Kumar, chairman and chief executive officer of Scalene Greenergy Corporation Ltd and Scalene Cybernetics.
Besides the low efficiency gas (55% to 65% methane), the basic system also produces carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide, a corrosive gas, resulting in pumps breaking down frequently.
Kumar, a researcher in biophysics, nanotechnology and sustainable energy, together with members of his Scalene Energy Research Institute (Seri) team, have developed a process to produce high-purity combustible gas, trade marked as Serigas.
Today, as much as 200kg of Serigas can be produced from one tonne of organic waste ? between 30% to 60% more than from existing systems.The bioreactors used to process waste and harness biogas can be scaled down for use in offices, homes and small communities.
Nine years of research has resulted in several scientific breakthroughs, like the Serigas bioreactor, which converts any biodegradable material into biomethane (up to 98% pure methane).
A significant part of the process is the microbe incubated bioreactor, designed to completely digest a very wide range of biomass, including lignin cellulose and hemi cellulose, within 10 to 24 days. For a long-time, lignin has been the single biggest technical bio-processing barrier to cellulosic biofuels because it is very difficult and costly to separate lignin from cellulose.
A fuel enrichment technology called ?spiral protium accelerating reactor super enrichment? (Sparse), meanwhile, is a combustion booster innovation that reduces fuel consumption of electricity generators by 50%. One kilogramme of refined Serigas can generate 6.5 units of electricity using the Sparse technology. Without Sparse, the power produced is only 3.5 units.
?Serigas has similar properties to fossil natural gas but without the undesirable impurities like butane, propane, pentane and CO2. Our highly controlled biological reaction has a very low cost of installation compared to other biogas, solar and wind energy systems,? Kumar said.
Computers of the bioreactors monitor parameters such as pH levels, temperature, humidity, hydraulic retention, carbon-hydrogen ratio and correct measures automatically.
Serigas can also be used in conventional diesel generators with minimum modifications.
The generators at Scalene?s power plant are fully computerised to work on input from readings on air-fuel variations, engine speeds, oxygen sensors and the spark ignition system. They produce no harmful emissions, except for water vapour.
Besides the gas, the other output of the plant is the 98% digested substance of the organic feed ? between 2% and 4 % solid and the rest liquid. This is turned into a high-grade fertiliser and alkaloids-rich pest repellent liquid.
As a cooking fuel, Serigas has the efficiency of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) and safety of firewood, besides being the cheapest cooking gas. It can be delivered through domestic gas pipes and conventional gas cylinders.
The high calorific value of Serigas is also comparable to that of LPG, making it an excellent automotive fuel that produces no carbon monoxide and other polluting gases. Serigas can be compressed into 200kg to 250kg canisters for large vehicles and from 20kg to 30kg canisters for smaller vehicles and motorcycles.
Incidentally, it was a Malaysian who got Kumar involved in renewable energy. Dr Ramesan Pillay, who had undergone multiple angiograms, got to know Kumar ? inventor of the Haemoseis 256 machine, a three-dimensional solution for cardiovascular assessment, diagnosis, management and prognosis ? through a mutual friend. The non-evasive machine that provides crucial physiological data is among the medical devices developed by Centre for Advanced Research and Development (CARD) ? a division of Scalene Cybernetics.
Dr Ramesan, who now heads Kuala Lumpur-based Scalene Asia Pacific, said he joined the team by starting out with research into medical devices and later ventured into renewable energy.Serigas has similar properties to fossil natural gas but without the undesirable impurities like butane, propane, pentane and CO2. ?DR RAJAH VIJAY KUMAR
?I have always had a passion for waste management, especially municipal wastes, after being guided by two Indian experts in the field, Dr S.R. Maley and Mr Anjan Das,? he said.
It was Dr Ramesan who pointed out that there was abundant energy in the keladi bunting floating in the lake which could be used as feed. ?The Serigas technology provides the ideal solution for the huge amounts of wastes that Malaysia produces. It can turn what is now unwanted to most wanted and valued,? he said.
Dr Ramesan said the application can be widely used because the feedstock can be any organic wastes, including the 930 tonnes of leftover food ? the equivalent of 93,000 10kg bags of rice ? that Malaysians throw out daily.
?Palm oil effluent remain a huge problem for the industry. A 40-tonne mill, for example, produces up to 24 tonnes of effluent per hour. One tonne of effluent can produce 100 cu m of methane. One megawatt of power can be generated with 6,000 cu m of methane, or less than three hours of plant operation,? he added.
Dr Ramesan said the huge amounts of agricultural waste from almost every other crop and also from pig, cattle and chicken farms were potential feeds.
?The system can also take municipal solid wastes while processing wastes from hotels, island resorts, hospitals into renewable energy and can be custom built to meet requirements under Scalene?s ?plug-and-play? system, using very little manpower.?
He said the food and beverage industry, particularly beer breweries, were another area of focus. ?Spent grain from breweries is a huge and costly problem to get rid off. This technology offers the simple yet valuable answer to the problem,? he said.
A brewery in India, reputedly the second largest in the world, has commissioned Scalene to provide electricity for its plant using spent grain as feed.
The Scarlene Greenery technology will be showcased at the second International Greentech & Eco Products Exhibition & Conference Malaysia at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from Sept 7 to 10. A portable version, designed for houses, is expected to be on display.