Companies creating business out of burning problems

Punjab has about 75 lakh acres of land under paddy cultivation. Every year, after the harvest, fields are left with crop residue, also known as stubble or straw. Farmers usually burn them to prepare their fields for the wheat production. The smoke from these fields move towards Delhi and other parts of north India, increasing the toxicity of the air. Now some companies are turning crop waste into money along with lowering pollution. Farm2Energy is a 3-year-old business based in Ludhiana’s Bija village. Two farmer brothers, Sukhbir and Kamljeet Singh, run it. They use balers and tractors to scoop up the stubble, roll it into bales and then sell it to neighbouring sugar, cement and oil factories as well as power plants who burn these in a controlled environment to fire boilers.
Nitin Jain, CFO of Farm2Energy, says, “Since we started in 2016, we have cleared straw from 20,000 acres of farmland in Punjab. “We also make bio-coal from crop stubble and plan to monetise it from the next financial year.” At Bio-Lutions factory in Bengaluru, eight machines convert three tonnes of paddy straw into pulp every day. The pulp is used to manufacture sustainable tableware and packaging material. “With multiple plants we will hopefully reduce crop residue burning as well as the use of single-use plastic,” said Kurian Mathew, CEO Bio-Lutions. The company produces plates, bowls, trays to pack vegetables in supermarkets and kidney trays used in hospitals.
In Delhi, a group of engineers and scientists founder Kriya Labs. The lab is running a pilot unit, which breaks down agricultural residue to pulp, used to make tableware. Ankur Kumar, CEO, Kriya Labs says, “We purchased 500kg of paddy straw at Rs 5/kg, and our current facility can produce 50kg of pulp a day. Later this year, we’ll be starting our first commercial facility in Ludhiana which will produce five tonnes of pulp per day using 7.5-8 tonnes of straw.”
The commercial success of these companies mean a relief for residents of North India who have to deal with acute respiratory disorders due to air pollution. A recent study by the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and partner institutes has estimated that the health and economic costs of crop burning in northern India amount to over $30 billion annually.