The Newz Radar
MANDI: A pilot project of the Himachal Pradesh forest department to produce bio-fuel and coal from pine tree needles has fast been gaining momentum in various parts of the state, serving the twin purpose of checking forest fires and generating employment.
As the commonly used coal is a highly polluting fossil fuel, it can be easily replaced by the bio-friendly coal produced from pine needles, which fall from pine trees to the ground in summer and are seen as a major cause of forest fires due to the high resin concentration in them.
Nearly 15 families of Draman village under Chambi panchayat of Sundernagar sub-division in Mandi district have taken up the task of producing eco-friendly coal out of pine needles. The act has not only strengthened them financially, but is also a boon for environment as this kind of coal is eco-friendly and smokefree.
The forest department has imparted training to the villagers and has also given one moulding machine for the production of bio-fuel. One of the villagers, Savitri Devi, told TNR that the forest officials inspired them for making coal out of the fallen pine needles, which had created a source of income for them. Sharavan Kumar, another villager, said they were earning around Rs 3 lakh from the coal, which was in high demand in restaurants, hotels and dhabas.
Anil Joshi, Chief Conservator of Forests, Mandi, said that it was a win-win situation for the forest department as well as the local people as it would not only check forest fires but also provide employment to the villagers.
Joshi said such projects were running successfully in several parts of the state where young entrepreneurs have set up small-scale industries with villagers supplying raw material (pine needles) and they converting it into smoke-free bio-fuel. The government even provides subsidy for setting up such industries, he said. “Such holistic solutions are needed today to address not only the issues of rural unemployment, but also to conserve the earth’s resources,” he said.
Process to make coal out of pine needles
The pine needles are first burnt in a drum of particular specifications to a cinder and then transformed into ash. Interestingly, even at this early stage, it begins to resemble charcoal. This is then mixed with cow dung, which is also prepared as a mixture. The two are then mixed together with a proportion of 1:10, the higher proportion being the ‘charcoal’ content. The mixture is then laid in a specially made moulding machine to make the new-formula coal. Allowed to settle, it does not have the ‘hardness’ of coal yet is not soft enough to crumble. It can be handled easily as large granules or small bricks. Fifty tonnes of pine needle bricks can replace 30 tonnes of coal at half the price of coal. This saves 71 tonnes of carbon emission, the department officials said.