Forty tonnes of bio-waste

by Shubashree Desikan

The wee hours of the night are not exactly filled with hectic activity in Chennai, yet not everyone is peacefully asleep. At 3 a.m. every day, Senthilnathan of Guindy gets up and makes his way in a hired auto-rickshaw towards Koyambedu. Within half an hour he is amidst a buzz of activity where he can start his business. He has reached the Koyambedu vegetable market where he will purchase vegetables at a wholesale rate and bring them back in the auto-rickshaw; pay the driver his regular fee of Rs. 350 and continue to supply the sorted vegetables to retail outfits and individual sellers on push carts.

However, not all the vegetables get sold out and neither can they be returned. The market started accumulating huge amounts of vegetable waste. To tackle this, a biomethanation plant was set up here in 2003, funded partly by the Central Government and partly by Chennai Metropolitan Development Corporation. Now, Koyambedu vegetable market is shaping up as a zone of reduced emissions and all set to claim carbon credits.

It was expected that by feeding in 30-40 tonnes of bio waste, the plant would generate about 5000 units of electrical energy per day. But this plan collapsed in 2007 when the plant started malfunctioning. At a cost of Rs 75 lakh, the engine was repaired. Now the plant has been suitably modified, and it generates electrical energy at the rate of about 1100 units a day. Soon, this level would increase so that apart from own use, a surplus of 1900 megawatts per day would be generated which can be supplied to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board.

A 30 tonnes/day capacity Biomethanation Plant for Power Generation in Koyambedu Vegetable Market, Chennai

The Tamil Nadu state government is committed to promoting sustainable management of solid waste and they have spoken of a plan to implement this in Chennai and its suburbs. Further, this biomethanation process and the ensuing energy saving enables Koyambedu Market to earn carbon credits (CCs from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change (UNFCC)) says the official I spoke to.

The concept of carbon credits is relatively new and very relevant in the development narrative of the present. The story begins in the year 2005, when the Kyoto protocol came into force. The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement between the participating countries, and the aim is to tackle the problem of development which is the cause of emission of green house gases, which in turn leads to global warming. The countries agree to follow some agreed-upon strategies to reduce their emissions of green house gases: for example, Carbon dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide.

See below.

Green: Countries participating in Kyoto Protocol

Now, according to the Kyoto Protocol, most of the so-called developed countries have already maxed out their quota of emissions, developing countries on the other hand, are allowed to increase their emissions rate to some level. However, they are encouraged to expand their projects through the procedure of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). If the organization that is applying CDM can prove that it is following a mechanism by which it has saved energy or prevented emission of GHGs, it is allotted a proportional amount of carbon credits. For every tonne of carbon dioxide they save (or the equivalent of some other GHG) they can earn one carbon credit.

But what is the use of going through all this trouble and collecting come certificates?

The official says, ‘it takes more than two years to complete the CDM procedure. Also, about 70 percent of the money goes to the agent who helps in the certification process’.

How does money come into it? These credits can then be sold like shares in the international market. As mentioned earlier, The Kyoto Protocol forbids developed countries from emitting more gases in the name of developing their businesses. But they can buy these credits and use them like a license to release GHGs in their own countries. Of course they cannot use this to justify their emissions 100 percent. They can balance the credits only up to 25 percent of their need, the rest has to be managed from within.

However, the process of earning credits is not easy or short, it can take two years or more. There are local agents who can help in the assessment process, like for example, Ernst and Young, but finally the agency that has to certify the organization is the UNFCC.

Would you think that the Employees Provident Fund organization, for example, can ‘go green’? Sounds remote, but in fact, it has! By switching to paper-free processes, it has also started the process of being environment friendly.

Another surprise candidate for the emissions reduction and carbon credit line is Khivraj Tech Park Pvt Ltd, which is becoming famous for its green buildings.

The Olympia Group, of the Khivraj fame, has constructed software parks in Chennai and Kolkata. Their latest object of pride, the Olympia Tech Park (OTP) in Chennai, is the world’s largest green building!  We spoke to Chandrakant Kankaria, Director, who says, ‘right from the start we planned… The materials used in the construction are sustainable. The buildings support rainwater harvesting; used water from the building is recycled. There are many more such ways…  for instance, the outgoing cold air from ACs is put into machines and recycled and put back into the offices, to mention just one technique of saving power’. The building has been accredited by the US Green Building Council as the world’s largest green building.

Olympia Tech Park has applied for Carbon Credits, too. Julian Francis, marketing department, who has been working on this for four years now, says, ‘it’s a long process, Ernst and Young is overseeing the process, but the certifying agency is the UNFCC’. In short, if some extra money, say Rs. 30 crore, is spent during the construction for processes or materials that will result in saving a quantum of energy, and if this can be proved, then the company earns credits equivalent to Rs. 30 crore. Says Julian, ‘the prestige it gathers is key, more than the credits, and Olympia is all set for the next green building – Olympia Opaline’. He further speaks of green homes, more comfortable and cool, which are possible now with architectural expertise and materials being available in the global market.

One carbon credit sells at a mere 8-9 Euros. Then one can imagine the number of credits and the amount of GHG saved to be able to make crores of rupees in this sale. The amount of emissions businesses normally run up is huge, if you think about it. In fact, one can ask the questions: if someone else is going to emit your quota of GHGs, how does this process help global warming? Yet, as mentioned before, the transfer of carbon credits is partial, and companies in developed countries can buy credits to compensate for only 25 percent of the emissions they would run up. So a net saving of emissions is on the cards.

Government initiatives and industrial moves are all set to go up the emissions trading path. Will this change the face of business in India and that of climate change globally?

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Shubashree Desikan is a writer based in Chennai, India. She has a PhD in physics and focuses on journalistic and literary writing.

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Note: The Carbon-Credit debate isn’t as flowery as Olympia Tech Park puts it. Why is US refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol? Why again is business being given a hand? Does it seem like businesses won’t clean up unless and until that gives them a profit? These are some questions that popped up for us when Shuba sent us this article. Take a look at Annie Leonard’s The Story of Cap and Trade. And also see the recent press release on India’s CDM scams published by Intercultural Resources (ICR).

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