India generates about 62 million tonnes of waste per year. Of this, about 70% is collected and in turn, a majority of this ends up in landfills. The volume is expected to increase to 165 million tonnes by 2030, and if not managed efficiently, this will lead to serious environmental and health hazards.
However, a Pune-based startup is changing the game through its bio-digesters by preventing organic waste from reaching the landfill and using waste to power street lights and reduce LPG consumption.
Vishal Khalde, a native of Talegaon in Maharashtra, studied chemical engineering, specialising in fermentation technology from Germany. In 2009, he returned to India and joined a biogas technology company that converted organic waste into Bio CNG.
However, after working for a couple of years, he realised that large scale models for the initiative posed multiple challenges like heavy investments, large land requirements and labour costs.
“I felt the need for small and standardised products that were feasible, efficient and served the same purpose. Moreover, such products would become affordable and used by a larger set of beneficiaries,” Vishal tells The Better India.
Thus in 2013, Vishal and his friend launched Xeon Waste Managers Pvt Ltd, a waste management startup that uses their proprietary product EnergyBins to convert organic waste into biogas.
Making biogas accessible
The 38-year-old says initially, thighs did not unfold the way the duo had planned. “We remained without work for 18 months after launching the startup. Target clients did not want to invest in waste management as it was not a trend, and few others did not trust us as we were a startup,” he explains.
Vishal says that to survive, the company started identifying and pitching the repairing and refurbishing of existing waste management plants in corporate companies.
However, as the startup continued its struggle to get new clients to sign up, the co-founder quit, leaving Vishal to shoulder all the responsibilities by himself.
Finally, in 2015, Xeon Waste received a contract from a company to set up the plant, but with one condition.
“We would only receive the payment after the work was completed and operations were successful. I accepted the deal as it was the only company that decided to give me a chance. I am proud that we still manage the plant operations of the company,” he says.
Vishal says that slowly, he started receiving orders from other corporate companies, Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs), government projects, schools and residential societies. Since then, the startup has installed over 75 plants across 13 states in India. The plants have collectively treated 3,276 tons of wet waste, converted them into 87 tons of LPBiogas and generate 61MWh of electricity.
Explaining the features of his patented biodigester EnergyBin, Vishal says, “The first step is to segregate the waste into biodegradable and non-biodegradable categories. The biodegradable waste is transferred into the plant.”
He says that food waste contains about 20% solids, which is almost double what a biogas plant requires to function. Water is added in a 1:1 ratio to reduce the density of the fluid.
“Food waste mixed with water is crushed into a liquid slurry and pumped into the main digester powered by a submersible pump to process the waste. The waste starts undergoing anaerobic digestion assisted by the Mesophilic bacteria already present in the mix. The bacteria is responsible for decomposing the liquid slug and releasing biogas through the process,” he adds.
Vishal says the process undergoing inside the bio-digester is hydrolysis — acidogenesis, acetogenesis and methanogenesis.
“Once the process is complete, only one by-product remains — slurry, which is rich in nutrients and can be used as organic fertiliser for crops. The biogas produced is stored inside a balloon of the bio-digester,” he says.
Vishal says the mix consists of multiple gases such as hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide, methane and water. “The methane is filtered out, which is about 65% of the total gas. However, our engineered product, with modification, improves the efficiency of the process and gives about 80% of methane,” he adds.
He says that the biogas has low pressure, and a blower is used to increase the same. “The biogas can be used to cook tea, snacks or power generators that light up the street lights or appliances,” he adds.
Vishal says that all the bio-digesters across India collectively treat 75 tons of organic waste every day. “If used efficiently, the EnergyBin can reduce LPG dependency by 1/4th and also cut down on greenhouse emissions,” he adds.
Sanjeev Aggarwal, managing three bio-digesters from Noida Resident Association, says, “There are 2,500 residents who have collectively installed three EnergyBins to treat the organic waste as it was landing up in the dump yard causing environmental damage. The power generated via biogas helps run the plant, making it self-sustainable and saves Rs 25,000 per month in terms of electricity bills.”
Sanjeev says that the residents have been glad to be able to make a conscious decision to reduce the negative impact on the environment.
Industrial companies have also benefited from the waste management solution. Rahul Kurlikar, a manager at Pune-based ThyssenKrupp AG, says the plant installed in the company generates biogas equivalent to 9 kilos of LPG every day. “The waste processing capacity of the plant is 230 kilos, but we process about 80 kilos daily and have reduced our dependency on LPG gas consumption,” he says.
‘Treat your own waste’
Meanwhile, Vishal says that despite the achievement, more work is needed in the waste management area. “Many people like to speak about waste management on social media and public platforms, but there are only a handful when it comes to implementing it on the ground. There is a need for increased awareness,” he says.
Besides, Vishal notes that multiple challenges affect the growth of the sector. “The clients are unwilling to pay on time, which disturbs the cash flow and often affects administrative work. We are always on our toes to get the finances straight,” he adds.
He adds that on a personal level, friends and people close to him mocked and laughed when they heard about what he wanted to do. “They doubted that treating waste could earn money and work as a business. Moreover, waste management was not a trend in the early 2010s and, when my business partner quit, the responsibility of seeking orders, processing, handling accounts, managing and other requirements fell on me,” he adds.
Sharing his future plans, Vishal says he wants to create self-sustained townships where waste is treated at the source and benefits the residents.
“We already have a project with South Eastern Railway where we manage a township of 1,200 houses. There are RFID cards where waste is collected and segregated from each household. The plastic waste goes for recycling organic waste gets converted into biogas and powers the streets while the slurry fertilises the garden and trees. The other waste is incinerated,” he adds.
Vishal says the overall process helped reduce the LPG use of the hospital inside this township by 80%. “We want to build such townships across India and integrate them,” he says.
He says that as of now, he is working on treating poultry waste with advanced technology to convert them into organic fertiliser. “We aim to convert liquid slurry in the form of a gel or powder to make it easy to use and transport,” he adds.
Edited by Divya Sethu