Paper mill leads India's eco-friendly movement

RAEBARELI, India, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- An Indian paper factory is taking the environmental motto "Reduce, reuse, recycle" literally.

The Shree Bhawani Paper Mill in Uttar Pradesh, India, is generating its own electricity from agricultural waste, turning its factory waste products into construction material, selling carbon credits from the process and making a tidy profit at the same time.

The factory burns a local waste product, rice husks, as the primary fuel for its boiler plant, which produces steam for the paper-making process. The company's director, Sudheer Tandon, said he noticed in 2001 that paper-making only consumed 30 percent of the boiler's energy.

He connected a turbine to the boiler plant and directed the excess steam to rotate the turbine, producing electricity. Before long, the factory was producing all of its own electricity without added expense, Tandon said.

Before 2001, the company paid about $70,000 per month for power to the state electric corporation, Gopal Singh Negi, the factory's deputy general manager, said. Now, the firm produces $280,000 worth of electricity each month and fulfills all its own energy requirements, Tandon said.

The project is at odds with the country's overall environmental record. India ranked 123rd out of 163 countries in the 2010 Global Environmental Protection Index, produced by experts at Yale and Columbia universities. And Uttar Pradesh has some of the country's lowest environmental sustainability scores, India's Institute of Financial Management and Research said.

Better service, more boilers, to come

Along with environmental kudos, the factory has gotten an additional bonus from the project: Self-produced power has proven to be more reliable than the state power company.

“The state power corporation does not give good service. We faced many problems due to uncertain power break ups,” Negi said.

And despite the loss of a major customer, the state power corporation hasn't opposed the paper factory's initiative, said Raj Kishor Mishra, an engineer with the state power company.

“Earlier the Shree Bhawani Paper Mill was paying for electricity but now they produce their own. We do not have any issues with it,” he said.

The company added another boiler in 2007 to the tune of $3.1 million. Between them, the boilers have produced enough energy, and paper, to significantly boost the company's profits, said Negi.

“We (are) making more energy as well as more paper. (We) are producing more paper in comparatively low production cost,” Negi said.

The result: Profits have risen 16 percent over the past five years.

With both turbines in place, Shree Bhawani produces 2.2 megawatts of electricity per day. It needs 1.7 megawatts to run its paper operation. The rest goes into the energy producing process.

Electric production feeds farmers, too

The paper factory has spread the ecological rewards to local farmers. In years past, farmers paid contractors to remove the leftover rice husks from their land after harvest, but the factory now pays them about 15 cents per pound for the material.

To save money, "sometimes we used to set it on fire without caring about the environment,” says Rambabu, a local farmer who doesn't use a last name. “Now we are generating additional income (from) the same product.”

Rice husk is a biomass fuel and when burned in a boiler plant "does not produce injurious carbon gases,” said Ajay Mahajan, founder of the nonprofit environmental group Kalpavriksha.

What it can produce are carbon credits, which the paper mill is selling to European countries. The factory has been issued 57,000 carbon credits (certified emission reductions) by the clean development mechanism executive board of the United Framework Convention on Climate Control.

Negi wouldn't reveal how many credits the company has sold, but said “we are earning a good amount as well as international recognition by selling it.”

The latest rate in international markets is about $12.50 per emission, said Emerging Ventures, a carbon-credit consulting firm.

Waste not, want not

The paper-making process has two primary waste products: black ash and water. Closing the recycling loop, Shree Bhawani reuses the water in its boiler plants and sells the black ash as a construction material.

In years past, the dry black ash presented an environmental hazard, polluting the air and causing eye infections in area residents, said local environmental activist Vijay Bahadur Singh.

In 2007, the company installed wet chamber technology to change the dry ash into wet ash, which can easily be collected before it enters the atmosphere.

“It was a serious issue for us but now we collect it in a wet chamber. We sell it to a private contractor ... (and) they use it in construction of new buildings. Now there is no more pollution issue,” Negi said.

More plants = more paper = more power

Shree Bhawani is adding another boiler plant and turbine by year's end, Negi said. The boiler will help the company increase paper production and the turbine will produce more energy.

Negi said the factory will use only 20 percent of the new boiler/turbine's capacity for its own power needs and hopes to sell the other 80 percent of its energy to the state electric corporation. The plan is still in the planning stages, however, as it hasn't gotten the go-ahead from state officials yet, Negi said.