Aug 24, 2008
One country’s loss is another’s gain. Where can one find a better example for this than in India? Bureaucratic wrangles, government apathy, lack of vision and farsightedness on the part of political leaders and finally pure bad luck resulted in handing over on a platter an indigenously developed technology to generate electricity from garbage, to Malaysia. India’s loss proved to be Malaysia’s gain not just in terms of generating electricity from waste but in providing eco-friendly alternative mode of disposing garbage, a monster that hangs like Damocles sword.
The brain behind 'Energy from Garbage' project, K Siva Prasad was in Mangalore recently to pay a visit to his daughter. Daijiworld's Florine Roche caught-up with him to learn more about the shocking story of the 78-year-old Engineer, who used his time, energy, skills and resources to develop an indigenous technology of generating energy by recycling waste.
But the infamous Indian bureaucracy and the appalling political leadership, right from Bangalore to Delhi failed to gauge the importance of this technology, thus depriving the people of this country an opportunity of benefiting from this kind of environment-friendly project. India's loss has finally proved to be a gain for Malaysia.
OUT OF SIGHT IS NOT OUT OF MIND
Generally it is said “Out of sight is out of mind”. But this maxim doesn’t apply to garbage, one of the biggest ghosts facing the entire world today, threatening the very existence of human civilization. One cannot get away with out of sight out of mind theory for the simple reason that waste never really goes away. It may change location or morph into another form or may resurface after decades. So when an alternative was developed it was just allowed to be slipped off. An idea that germinated in the mind of an Indian during his visit to America resulted in developing a technology in India, in Bangalore to be precise was whisked away by Malaysia and will be commissioned by the end of this year.
This sordid incident goes like a story and the central figure of this story is K S Siva Prasad, a Chennai-born Mechanical Engineer by Profession, running a family tobacco business in Andhra went to America in connection with business y in the 70’s. The world was hit by oil crisis in the 70’s and USA government was bent upon finding an alternative source of energy and waste or garbage was identified as a potential source of developing alternative energy. The idea of using garbage as a waste to develop fuel took shape there. The family had moved to Bangalore by then as the soil in Mysore was considered conducive for growing high quality tobacco.
But the idea of garbage as fuel was put to work in 1986 and within three years Siva Prasad developed a pilot project and patented it. The United Nations chose it as of the 101 best projects for sustainable technology development. As agreed upon in the Rio Earth Summit by the participating nations, Siva Prasad represented India to make a presentation on this topic in 1995 in Bangkok and was selected as the best technology in the Asia Pacific Region.
In the meanwhile Mr Prasad wanted to put a large scale commercial plant and then began the hunt for land from the government. Since waste comes under the government management, the project had to come up in a government designated land. Then Chief Minster of Karnataka Veerendra Patil had sanctioned the project but fate intervened. His government was sacked by then Prime Minster Rajiv Gandhi within two days and the project got doomed. The project met with a derisive and dismissive snort from Mr Bangarapppa who took over from Patil. “If Patil government had survived for another two days Bangalore would have got the project”, Prasad recalls.
Similarly he approached state governments of Delhi, Andhrapradesh, Tamilnadu. Though all the state governments and the Ministry of Non Conventional energy sources were enthused by the project, it never got started. Under tech-savvy Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu even the foundation stone was laid and initial work had begun. But it got washed away in the over flooded waters of Krishna. In Channai the private promoter selected by Tamilnadu Investment & Development Corporation (TIDCO) was arrested for fraud. The Delhi Government under Madan Lal Khurana had sanctioned 32 acres of land on prime highway but the private promoter, a rich lottery business dealer with 100 crore turnover per day, suffered a heart attack when the Delhi government banned lottery. The fiery T N Seshan who headed the group of secretaries put down the proposal of the department of Non Conventional Sources of energy when it came for his sanction.
RAY OF HOPE FROM MALAYSIA
“The project got sacked in Karnataka, washed away in Andra, suffered a heart attack in Delhi and got entangled into fraud in Tamilnadu”, says the 78 year-young Siva Prasad with a mischievous chuckle. Amidst all this high voltage drama and the setbacks everywhere the Prasad family was able to keep his sanity intact. Finally a ray of hope came in the form of a private Company from Malaysia which evinced interest in the project and the deal was signed in 2000 for the joint venture. He set up a pilot project because garbage varies from place to place and one needs to put a pilot project and run it for at least a year and to get the vital data so that one can design a gigantic commercial plant. The project takes a holistic approach towards waste management where waste as a resource is used to develop energy. Apart from being a viable operating unit it contributes value addition to the economy by generating green power, which is the need of the hour.
The work at Kajang Project of Malaysia began in 2004 and it works in two segments i.e fuel preparation and Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) plant. The RDF technology converts combustible matter into free burning pellets. These fuel pellets can be used for steam and power generation. At the Kajang plant, the entire process for converting solid waste to fuel takes about forty minutes.
At the heart of the operations is the patented Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) technology. Waste is thrown into the machines which get sorted out with plastic metal etc., getting separated at the first stage. The waste then gets shredded and goes for drying. Here the combustible material gets lifted up and heavy things get dropped down. The combustibles are then compacted into pellets. Therefore, RDF consists mainly of dried organics, textiles and paper and it is the most environmentally friendly way to produce electricity.
The plant in Malaysia processes 1000 tons per day of waste in a 28 acre facility. The capacity of the power plant is 9 MW. It is scheduled to commence operation by year end and will export 5.5 MW to the grid. 3.5 MW is kept aside for self use. The investment in the Waste to Energy plant is 50 Million USD. This is the first operating plant in the ASEN region. This is set up in a joint venture with CORE COMPETENCIES SDN BHD, a joint venture between Malaysian company and Mr Siva Prasad. If one looks at the life cycle cost of RDF, the investment cost is very less as it requires just one time investment.
LIVING ON GREEN FUEL
The entire Prasad family eats lives and breathes only green fuel. His wife Sharada, daughter Chellam and son Shiva Shankar Prasad are totally involved in the project contributing their mite in developing this technology. The pain of rejection in their own land is writ large on their faces. But they have taken it in their strides because their invention has at least fructified somewhere else if not in India without going into the drains. Age has not withered Mr Prasad’s fervor for experiments. Even now he puts in 12 hours of work a day. In fact the entire family sometimes recalls and laughs over the events that unfolded in their quest for putting their technology to good use.
NOTHING LASTS FOR EVER BUT GARBAGE DOES
The RDF process is not only environment-friendly but is environment benign as the technology converts garbage into energy and in the process proves doubly beneficial - by getting rid of the hazardous garbage by the process of elimination and also by producing green energy. Major advantage of this technology is that it reduces the amount of garbage we burry in land fills. Burning waste substantially reduces the amount of thrash going into land fills as even dead buried waste resurfaces after decades. By recycling something we don’t need we get something we need and in the process we contribute in our way in safeguarding our planet earth which cannot be recycled.
With the country facing severe energy crunch our country can opt for this eco-friendly way of getting rid of the monster garbage staring at us and also get the crucial energy required.
Let us hope the present government in Karnataka will rise up to the occasion to ensure that other people like Mr Siva Prasad who devoted their time and energy to come up with an innovative technology, do not feel let down due to its callous attitude and apathy. It is better late than never. It is unfortunate and foolhardy that a technology developed by our own country is first put to use somewhere else. Can we at least expect our present day politicians to be more prudent?