Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Biomass Gasifiers For Rural Village Power

University of Virginia students have started a company to provide power for rural Indian villagers, using rice husk gasifiers. Rice husks are a plentiful waste biomass product in many rice-growing regions of the world.
There are 480 million Indians with no power and 350 million of them live in rural villages, concentrated in eastern India's "Rice Belt," where the villagers are "rice rich and power poor," explained Ransler.

The team was struck, said Ransler, by how "these big things all work together" — three sources of revenue could be produced from what was otherwise a waste product sitting in huge piles slowly rotting in villages across India. Even with conservative electricity consumption, revenue from the three sources would allow each rice husk generator to break even in about two and a half years, and it would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 200 tons per year, per village. Furthermore, explained Ransler, a lack of reliable electricity is one of the biggest obstacles to small business growth in rural India, so providing a village with rice-husk power can be the enabler of a dozen other small business ventures. They concluded, "someone should do this. Why shouldn't it just be us?"

With all the refinements, the business plan soon started "looking like Starbucks — you can put one of these in 125,000 locations, hire local people, and turn a raw material into money — just substitute rice husks for coffee beans," said Ransler.

Biomass gasification should work well for small rural communities in areas of prolific growth and plentiful biomass. This market is huge worldwide, and presents opportunities for small and medium scale business--since large businesses are currently uninterested.
Decentralised Energy Systems (DESI Power), a young, India-based power company that built a biomass gasification plant that runs on inexpensive agricultural residues such as ipomoea, a weed plentiful throughout the Indian countryside. DESI’s power plant in the village of Baharbari provides a cheap, clean source of electricity that the village uses to meet local microenterprises’ and agricultural laborers’ needs, such as pumping water and charging batteries. Indeed, the driving idea behind DESI Power is to make a profit from designs that fall outside the standard power generation model, and in doing so to create worthwhile jobs and economic growth in places that the government has all but forgotten. DESI does make a profit: The company generates a 10 percent return on its investment by building, owning, and operating the power plants before eventually turning them over to local power producers.

...Though there is literally a world of opportunities for firms to meet basic demand for housing, water, energy, medical insurance, legal and financial services, and much more in developing markets, few are doing so. According to a recent Ashoka report, large companies have tapped only about 20 percent of new markets.Corporations often draw workers from these populations, but rarely do they flip the equation and develop products, services, and brands that target the poor’s basic social and infrastructure needs. __Source

This area represents a huge blind spot in the tunnel vision of most western educated businesspeople. Who, after all, can take weeds, manure, and husks seriously? What are the profit margins in the biomass business next to those in oil, telecom, and jet aircraft?

Urbanisation--the flight to the cities--is driven by poverty and lack of opportunity in rural areas. But what if rural areas are actually rich with opportunity, and poor only in imagination and expertise? A bit of innovation from the big city might go a long way out in the sticks.

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Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

You might see something like "micro-urbanization". Moving from tiny villages to small villages to take advantage of a slightly larger market and mass of talent and infrastructure while avoiding the rapidly forming slums of the larger cities. Slums are not a completely evil phenomenon as they are preferred by many poor people to subsistence agriculture and do tend to evolve and develop, if they are allowed, into better habitats.

But slowing mega city growth through micro-urbanization could make the situation far more manageable.

Distributed local energy systems like this would provide a market for other goods and services while boosting productivity which could cause growth in the more centralized towns. Better agriculture productivity would reduce land use pressure, while spreading the urbanization effect out over more and smaller towns and cities would allow for the efficiencies of higher density markets, mitigating some of the pressure that mega-cities in developing nations endure.

1:33 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

Some of the things happening in the countryside of India are quite exciting.

A lot of it derives from Indian immigrants to the west who want to give back to the home country in a meaningful way.

10:58 AM  

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