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The Potential of Food Waste to Energy for Small Communities in India


Food waste is a global-scale phenomenon, Food waste generated in India is huge and waste segregation methods are still inadequate and is a growing issue. With less than 55% of waste collected and less than 17% processed (Arian, 2018). Moreover, landfills are held for being the largest GHG emitters. This topic has gained popularity & momentum in recent years. This paper proposes the problems and challenges faced during the waste segregation process, decomposition of waste with different technologies, and tackling the rising plastic problem which requires further research in enabling these technologies (Robert et al.

, 2018). The paper intends to analyze & discuss different FWTE (Food waste to Energy) processes & scenarios considering time, capital & space with the potential to harnessing alternative energy focusing on creating an optimal solution for food waste management systems in the Indian community sector.


Food waste is abundant resources globally dumped in landfills consequently resulting in environmental implications with increased carbon emissions globally, in turn, is surging global warming potential with perpetually re-lying on fossil fuels.

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Nearly 45% of food in the supply chain never gets eaten (hannason, 2016). The problem is so vivid which implies the current scenario where fresh fruits and vegetables travel miles to the local grocery store, similarly waste travels around 300-450 miles and considerably shipped intercontinental to landfills (Priti, 2015). However, the change is foreseen with many countries pledging to combat climate change by developing and integrating alternate aka sustain-able energy sources to generate electricity (Argonne, 2017). The biggest challenge for food waste to energy technology is waste segregation & contamination in the first place.

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The paper discusses small bio-renewable energy solutions targeting the community sector and remote locations. On average a family of four wastes around 3.5 kg of food waste on a daily basis (Liam, 2016). Comparatively, two kg of FW produces one hour of clean cooking gas (Srinivas, 2014). Composting & biogas production from FW (Food waste) is a time consuming but an efficient process and plays a vital role in the circular the economy was, we tend to rotate and keep resources in a loop for an extensive period. Enabling to seek maximum value, then regenerating and recovering the materials at the end of service life. It circuitously impends to reduce the burden on landfills and the loop is formed. India needs to adapt and learn from European culture where less than 1% of waste is directed to landfills as treating waste as a valuable re-source (Bendere, 2018).

The image depicts the emblematic example of MSW being dumped and disposed of openly in an unhygienic manner in rural areas of India. Indeed causing health and environmental degradation issues. Currently, according to a recent municipal waste report stating nearly 73 million tons of waste being generated (52% organics), the waste is sorted effectively has exponential of producing hundreds of Megawatts of electricity (Erikson, 2015). The waste management issue is so vast and prevailing with many local and government bodies involved.

Modular Community-Based Solution

 Urban Community

Techno-economic analysis of homemade compact and inexpensive biogas plant around $40 with daily input of 4-5 liters of waste produces 3-4 hours of cooking on a daily basis. Eventually, it is good to chop the food into smaller portions. Pieces to aid faster fermentation (some process follow the principle of adding liquid waste first followed by chopped food going into waste inlet of plants and vice versa (Tanmoy, 2017). Then the bacteria (sugary and starchy material are ideal for bacteria to decompose and produce methane. The methane gas produced after fermentation is transported using small cylindrical tubes. The slurry generated in this home-made plant is colorless and odorless. It is an excerpt fertilizer that can be used on smaller plants and vegetables or undiluted bigger biogas plants. Some authors stated that during the process of generating an inflammable methane gas it may take several days to weeks (Krishna, 2018). The feedstock can be started with a small quantity of kitchen waste and further be gradually increased day to day basis.

The interesting fact to note here is the me-thane exerted from this plant is stored in huge old rubber tires and placing heavyweights to build pressure for the gas (Durga, 2017). (In-expensive and end of life recycled solution using materials). Home-Biogas will create an efficient and durable biogas generator that is robust and accessible to all. Placing all your leftovers in tent-like contractions (Nagarpal, 2017). The process follows the same biogas principle generating clean odorless gas which can be used to power cooking without any electricity. Form the organic waste, creating the energy to cook, and enabling the use of liquid fertilizers to grow the organics again. The motto is to put the waste to positive use.

Rural & Sub-Rural Community

In India, many villages, towns and some sub-urban areas still lack access to clean and reliable electricity with having power cuts for nearly 14-18 hours/day (Reddy, 2011). A recent article by Times of India showing the use of rice husk material (Rice husk usually co-vers the grain and is thrown after removal of grain by farmers, India has prominent use of rice which makes rice husk abundant feed-stock (Suresh, 2013).
The feedstock is bought to a mini power plant where piles of husk are burnt and endure the capacity to produce enough energy to power this generator followed by gas chamber, the authorities claim it can light up to 450 homes cleaner and cheaper than conventional fuel like kerosene (Sujith, 2013). Interestingly the electricity produced through waste is sold at $5/month per home which is a quarter of what government connections cost.

India’s largest community-based biogas plant operates with cow dung as feedstock having a total capacity of 650m3 (Rajender, 2014). This community-based plant is operational for 15 years and is operated by a dairy farm, this farm consists of eight digesters and each is fed with one tractor of cow dung and mixed well with water and is at closed constant temperatures of 38-55 degrees for microbes to get metabolized and runs on a daily basis and provides cooking gas (biogas) to nearly 350 homes of 500 in kammudu village, Gujarat (Nidhi, 2014). The connections are established for less than $3 AUD/month which is inevitably cheaper than government connections.

Fwte Methods

The chart illustrates the waste reduction processes from top to bottom approach, where significant importance is given to source waste reduction & recycling, followed by aerobic & anaerobic composting also termed as anaerobic digestion have limitations of source segregated organics for their operation (Marcus, 2016). The objective is to reduce and recover most of the waste and liberate to zero landfills.

Anaerobic Digestion

Anaerobic digestion is currently being used in many sectors at a scalable level from commercial to the residential sector, it is a significant approach to convert FW to cooking gas and fertilizers, where organic matter and left-overs are fed to digester inlet further fragmented by microorganisms (bacteria) in absence of oxygen. Captivatingly, Different researchers have reported the biogas produced after being stabilized and effective conversion has 60-65% methane bestowing potential of fuel for power generation (Shakeel, 2015). Besides the fuel can be used as a bio-fertilizer to maneuver plants hence closing the loop. AD is encouraged as an efficient decentralized method of sustainable energy generation from waste consequently diverts wastes from landfills (Madan, 2015). Works of literature reveal this process to be prominent for all ap-plications especially rural communities & re-mote areas. As mentioned in literature by co-gent group, 2016 the challenges can be addressed with Anaerobic digestion type of viable decentralized biogas system proposed which eliminates heavy capital investments and give optimum output with limited feed-stock & promoting community involvement.

Dehydration of Food Waste

Hydrothermal liquefaction can modestly be termed as a dehydration technique. Unlike AD here the food waste undergoes heating under high temperatures to extract oil which can be sophisticated into fuel. Interestingly after liquefaction, the leftover FW goes through the AD process as discussed earlier (Jitendera, 2016). Numerous experimental studies strongly claim that combining hydrothermal liquefaction and AD is an efficient way of processing food waste resolving under minutes over hours of sole anaerobic digestion (Tanirika, 2017). A comparative study by researchers from Bangalore institute of technology in 2017 has led in findings the hydrothermal liquefaction process is energy generation intensive and lacks focus on lost nutrients that can be recovered as rich soil as fertilizers. These researched findings can aid significant results in improving the state of the plant.

Challenges of Fate

Incineration Issue

This area is interestingly debated in many journals as being beneficial but toxic at the same time. The thermal solutions use a combustion process to burn waste at high temperatures (800-1200 degrees). Many researchers claim that the fly ash exerted by WTE plants is toxic and can cause life-threatening diseases like cancer (Maqbool, 2011). However, scientists assert the waste mixture can pollute air land, and water resources. The bottom ash extracted can be used in construction sites building bricks. Meanwhile developed countries like the Netherlands and Sweden adopt-ed innovative technologies where the hazard-ous pollutants exerted from these plants are controlled and treated separately and disposed of safely to landfills. Authorities state that WTE process with an 80% reduction in MSW (Municipal solid waste) will prolong the life of landfills from being overfilled (Tripaty, 2016).

Waste Segregation

Although research has been done, waste segregation is still a critical issue and factor for efficient waste to energy systems. Recent developments in increasing efficiency of the plant with employing electrostatic-separator to help to sort the issue with proper screening and enables to segregation of contaminants like plastic, glass, etc. with appropriate mixing ratio and applied voltage owing to higher conductivity of electrostatic separator (Gao, 2018).

Landfill Problems

Different authorities have reported as land-fills to emit hazardous toxins & GHG gases (methane, carbon dioxide) contributing to global warming, landfills need strict regulations to avoid contamination of it in air, soil, and water. Currently, India is facing issues with landfills being overfilled and workers’ safety (Mudassar, 2018). Moreover, the health and safety of these rag pickers are rising concern and prone to life-threatening dis-eases as working in hazardous and unsafe environments reported in several findings. The real-time image exposes the working conditions of rag pickers including children. Eventually, one-thirds of waste found in landfills are organics and can be treated (Nagender, 2018).


A study conducted at various waste recycling plants reveals that around 70% of recyclables are placed into wrong bins, which could be perfectly recycled but with contamination thereby ending up in landfills. According to research conducted by scientists from clean-away technology in 2017 expose that metals, food leftovers in recyclables, and plastics are found to be the most common contaminants. The need of proper waste education ascends to reduce contamination. Besides, Hydrogen sulfides and siloxanes are the major contaminants of biogas plants (Sinha and Euchar 2013). These contaminants decrease the functional efficiency of the plant if not treated prior.

Intermittency Issue

Several studies scrutinized and determine that the unavailability of quality feedstock and power outrages interrupts the waste conversion process. The integration of solar PV (Photovoltaics) to plant can decrease the dependence on the grid and can cut costs (Kapil, 2015). The intermittency issue can be resolved with powering storage options resembling battery or hydrogen tanks with the gradual integration of solar PV will substantiate the biogas power plant to run round the clock. There is room for research in the quality of feed-stock fed.

Policy Framework

The Central Government made to create an attractive scheme for an effective waste management system with adequate awareness and education. The policy emphasizes on using fiercely energy-efficient methods to prolong product shelf life and reduce hazardous pro-duction materials. Although people are shift-ing their thoughts with recycling and segregation which has to be taken from grass root level (Homes). The emphasis on zero waste and circular economy is yet lacking in policy disclosure (Ahmed, 2019).

The lack of an appropriate policy framework perhaps serves to be the greatest diffident for the effective implementation of FWTE technologies. According to the national environment act revised in 2013 states some key policies influencing this area. Local councils are granted provisions to authorized officials to conduct safety audits and inspections at restaurants, supermarkets, etc. to ensure waste segregation practices are followed (Nyugen, 2018). Mandating the need of self-segregation of bulk waste producers to dispose of safely with no penalty for abiders.

However, these policies do not mandate waste generators with gradual penalties for improper disposal of waste which needs to be taken into consideration. There are some major flaws in WMS (Waste management system) in India where the waste generator expects monetary for waste disposed of, following to which the entire revenue flowing back-wards (Iwata, 2018). Upon analyzing differ-ent scenarios, stricter policy changes are needed to shift the paradigm of WMS. Eventually, significant schemes are provided by the government for construction of community-based biogas plants for cooking and power generation with incentives in terms of financial, operational, and land lease (Shukla, 2018).

Research Gaps & Future Work

From Researches and analysis of FWTE technology by various researchers and scholars over the years, it is apparent food waste is an essential resource for power generation. Source sorting is a vital step in this process. Modifications and developments discussed in this paper can be bought to existing technologies to enhance their performance & efficiency. Besides more focus is driven by scholars raising questions regarding the efficiency of the AD technology which can be increased with source segregation and quality of feedstock fed to biogas plant (Ravinder et al. 2016). Adapting European technologies of recycling waste has immense potential to create vital change. Studies conducted on the community sector in both scenarios are vital for understanding different aspects of the biogas plant in India.

The impending effects of the quality of feed-stock need further clarification. As mentioned in literature by cogent group, 2016 the challenges can be addressed with Anaerobic digestion type of viable decentralized biogas system proposed which eliminates heavy capital investments and give optimum output with limited feedstock & promoting community involvement. Policy and regulations need to accent with stricter guidelines working with local councils for sorting waste from the origin (Salim et al. 2019). Detailed research is necessary for the techno-economic analysis of these plants. The paper identifies the challenges faced by FWTE plants in India, leaving room for further extensive investigation re-quired in areas of policy and recycling contamination.


The important aspect that is highlighted here is the effects of the inadequate operation of landfills and methods to convert food waste to energy as cooking fuel. Similarly analyzing various challenges, possibilities & limitations have been discussed to clearly understand the current situation in incorporating the adoption of Food waste to energy technology in India. Further research is required with a detailed feasibility study of the biogas plants. Therefore it is substantial to say that cooking gas derived from food waste is a practical and economically viable solution in the community sector and prominently be influenced by effective source segregation of waste to avoid contamination and influencing strict policy modifications with incentivized behavioral change en-ables in reduced emissions and is an optimal solution for zero landfill and sustainable waste management system.


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The Potential of Food Waste to Energy for Small Communities in India. (2020, Oct 16). Retrieved from

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