Converting Urban Waste to Usable Energy

Ever thought about the enormous amount of waste our cities create, and wonder what happens to it? Ever felt like we really don’t utilize obvious sources of energy? Ever felt frustrated knowing that this waste is a massive source of potential energy that we just aren’t tapping into? Mainak Chakraborty and Srikrishna Shankar, two Bombay-based engineers, felt the same way, and created a system to convert the massive amount of kitchen waste into biogas. DNA India reports:

The system that they have put together is primarily for wet waste that is generated in mass kitchens including those in hotels, malls, restaurants, corporate and college canteens; and is compact, needing just 100-200 square feet of space to get installed. It can be set up either on the terrace or the open ground surrounding the establishment.

“The idea is to enable bulk waste generators to have a viable waste treatment solution,” says Chakraborty.

Once the system is installed, establishments would need to make daily deposits of their wet waste and operators from Green Power System, (the company Chakraborty and Shankar started) would come and convert the waste to biogas, which can then get piped back into the kitchen.

As per their calculations, every 100 kg of waste can generate 14-15 cubic metres of biogas, which in turn is equal to 7 kg of LPG that is normally used in kitchens.

This idea isn’t exactly new or even a new feat of engineering innovation. The conversion of bio-waste into biogas is in fact is being done on a smaller scale all over India, but somehow hasn’t really taken off in cities. The real creativity of Chakraborty and Shankar is the fact that they figured out a model that could work in an urban environment and would end up being more convenient, more sustainable, and ultimately, an energy-saving initiative. What is also important is that the system they’ve created is entirely odorless – a very important factor for an urban kitchen.

They’ve also managed to figure out an excellent business model by choosing to target large commercial kitchens and not individual households. Large kitchens can generate up to 300-500 kg of kitchen waste daily. This kind of volume of waste means that the conversion to biogas can happen more rapidly and will result in much greater output as well. But Chakraborty and Shankar intend to eventually make this system available to individual households as well. They would create a centralized place for the collection of waste and its conversion into biogas, and then bottle it as cylinders and sell it back to the households (at a cheaper price than conventional LPG cylinders).

What is particularly interesting to me about this kind of project is that it will probably result in a much greater awareness about our waste. In addition, it could result in more people separating different kinds of waste, which in turn will have a positive effect on recycling. Since Indian households, even urban ones, actually have a much higher volume of biodegradable waste (as opposed to cities in the West), this could be a huge breakthrough in terms of the impact we have on the environment.

About Ayesha Vemuri

Ayesha Vemuri is responsible for thought leadership and outreach efforts at CKS. She has undergraduate degree in Visual Art from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she also studied such varied subjects as biology, literature and the humanities. At CKS, she is responsible for curating the Design Public blog, managing our various social media platforms, organizing Pecha Kucha Nights and contributing to the intellectual content of the Design Public Conclave and other CKS initiatives. Find her on twitter at @ayeshavemuri.
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