According to the medical journal The Lancet – as featured in an article in Bloomberg – Coal provides roughly 70 percent of India’s electrical energy needs, even as 1.24 million citizens die annually as a result of the country’s choking smog. According to Greenpeace and Air Visual, 7 of the world’s top 10 cities with the worst air quality, were in India.
But, even when jarring statistics like these pile-up, India’s rampant energy production, and consumption needs rely on primitive approaches – Approaches that strongly undermine the health and welfare of citizens. As 21 – year old engineering students, Katha Sur, and Karan Ghorai were well aware of the fact that better energy solutions are imperative if we were to survive and thrive in a new age. But, a chance encounter with a jute farmer in rural West Bengal added a new facet to this thought. “Jute sticks are a by-product of Jute production. Mostly considered as waste, nearly few million tonnes of jute sticks are usually thrown away post-harvest. Also, upon conversations with many farmers, it was evident that their livelihood had inescapable holes that made jute farming, hardly profitable. For some, even getting enough money for 2 square meals was difficult. In the jumble of all this, the seemingly redundant jute sticks became the solution”, recalls Katha.
Foreseeing the vast possibility in Jute sticks, Katha and Karan are utilizing them to create and commercialize white coal (biomass briquettes). White coal is a form of fuel that is well known from biomass like sugarcane bagasses and saw dust. Katha and Karan saw the possibility of utilizing, often wasted, jute sticks for the purpose and giving a new source of livelihood to thousands of distressed Jute farmers.
“Everything started with our prototype. Our white coal is made from a machine that is called briquetting machine – that can make white coal from any relevant raw material. We had sent in crushed jute sticks to a plant in Gujarat that housed briquetting machines. Even those people in Gujarat were shocked and surprised to understand that Jute sticks can be used to create white coal briquettes.”, says Katha.
The results bore equal amazement upon completion, as it did with the people in Gujarat. “An advantage of white coal is that the pollution caused by white coal is monumentally less than black coal with no sulphur content. Moreover, the energy released by our white coal is almost equivalent to the one emitted by regular coal. The calorific value of industrial B Grade coal is 4000-6000 kcal/kg. The calorific value of our white coal produced from jute sticks is nearly 4500 kcal/kg”, says an enthusiastic Karan.
Like these evident facts, Karan and Katha’s innovation found evident reception amongst the industry at large, upon initial testing. “We have already been approached by big corporate houses for the white coal who have shown their interest in buying over 100 tons at first month from us and also in buying back all our production!!”, says Katha.
“Nowadays, industries are switching to white coal, as it serves their energy needs and is also environment-friendly. Thus, our product has a high return in shorter period of time. All we need is an investor who can come forward and support our efforts. We even have our scale up plan and monetary valuation of our product ready. An investment of Rupees 50,00,000 would be recouped within a period of 6 months. Thus, our product has financial viability, satiates industrial needs, satisfies ecological relevance, and generates livelihood for thousands. All we need a support to take off”, says a hopeful Karan.
For their work, Katha and Karan received the 3M – CII Young Innovators Challenge Award 2019 in the product innovation category. They concluded by recognizing their mentor’s name Kamal Sur (Katha’s father) saying “We got the best mentor without whom we couldn’t be better”. Their work in creating white coal from Jute sticks can indeed be a new breakthrough in creating a relevant source of energy, is environment-friendly, and can be a source of livelihood for thousands – creating opportunity from what was once considered a waste.
For creating white coal out of Jute sticks, Karan Ghorai and Katha Sur were awarded the 3M – CII Young Innovator Challenge Award 2019 in the Product Innovation Category.