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World Water Day: The water-energy nexus in bioenergy production

India stands at a crossroads, navigating the delicate balance between energy security and environmental sustainability. As the nation seeks to diversify its energy portfolio, bioenergy emerges as a promising avenue for clean power generation. Yet, amidst this pursuit of renewable energy, there lies a crucial consideration often overlooked – the intricate relationship between water and energy in bioenergy production.

Bioenergy, derived from organic materials such as biomass, holds immense potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. However, the process of converting biomass into usable energy demands a substantial amount of water. From cultivation and harvesting to processing and refining, water serves as a vital component throughout the bioenergy production chain.

The implications are clear – as India ramps up its energy production from both conventional and renewable sources, the demand for water inevitably surges. The challenge, therefore, lies not only in conserving water but in employing smart water management practices to ensure efficiency and sustainability.

The urgency of the matter is underscored by the looming specter of water scarcity. A survey reveals that while majority of industries currently feel the pinch of water scarcity, and it is likely to increase in the coming years. In the face of such projections, embracing water-efficient practices becomes imperative for the bioenergy sector’s responsible and sustainable growth.

Fortunately, there exist a plethora of strategies that bioenergy facilities can adopt to enhance water efficiency. Depending upon their capacities and stage of operations, bioenergy plants can save significant volume of water through following key water saving interventions.

Feedstock Production:

  • Promoting drought-resistant crops: Encouraging the use of crops that require less water for growth.
  • Precision irrigation: Implementing technologies like soil moisture sensors and drip irrigation systems to deliver water directly to plant roots, minimizing evaporation and waste.
  • Mulching: Covering the soil with organic material like straw or wood chips helps retain moisture and reduces water needs.

Biofuel Processing:

  • Closed-loop water systems: Implementing systems that recycle and reuse process water within the bio-refinery, significantly reducing freshwater intake.
  • Evaporative cooling: Utilizing evaporative cooling towers for temperature control, which can be more water-efficient than traditional cooling systems in some climates.
  • Membrane filtration: Employing membrane filtration technologies to separate and concentrate contaminants in wastewater, allowing for water reuse and minimization of wastewater discharge.
  • Optimizing cleaning processes: Implementing efficient cleaning protocols with minimal water usage for equipment and tanks.

Wastewater Treatment and Reuse:

  • Advanced wastewater treatment: Utilizing technologies like biological treatment or reverse osmosis to treat wastewater for reuse in non-critical processes like irrigation or cleaning.
  • Nutrient recovery from wastewater: Extracting nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater for use as fertilizer, reducing reliance on fresh water for nutrient application in feedstock production.
  • Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD): Implementing a system where almost all wastewater is treated and reused within the facility, minimizing freshwater use and wastewater discharge.

Moreover, investing in water-efficient technologies not only reduces the environmental footprint but also yields long-term cost savings.

As we commemorate World Water Day, let us recommit ourselves to the pursuit of water-saving strategies, the advancement of innovative technologies, and the fostering of collaborative partnerships. By doing so, we not only safeguard our precious water resources but also lay the groundwork for a sustainable future for generations to come.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the article by Bhagyashri Patil Ghongade, Senior Manager of Market & Strategic Partnerships at Raj Process & Equipments Pvt Ltd., are solely her own.

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