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Seminar: Managing pollution from thermal power plants and brick kilns in India

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Information deficit while managing air pollution in India
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Information deficit while managing air pollution in India

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Brookings India hosted a seminar and discussion on “Managing Air Pollution from Thermal Power Plants and Brick Kilns in India”. The seminar featured Dr. Sarath Guttikunda, Founder and Director, UrbanEmissions.

Dr. Guttikunda, one of India’s leading air pollution experts, presented his research focusing on the two sectors of thermal power plants and brick kilns, and their contributions, trends, and some inter-linking stories. Brookings India scholars shared selected findings of a study on power plant ash production and utilisation. The discussion that followed was moderated by Brookings India Fellow for Energy and Sustainability Rahul Tongia.

Air pollution is a subset of energy and environment work at Brookings India. There is an ongoing multi-year series on the coal sector in India. There is a study on ash from coal. More than 78 per cent of electricity in India is generated from coal, which is very ash heavy. Depending on the grade, 33-35 per cent of coal is ash. As a result, stakeholders are very concerned about emissions from coal usage.

Taking the example of a generic thermal power plant of 100 MW and assuming a certain efficiency of the plant, 0.36 million tonnes of coal produces 0.12 million tonnes of ash. 80 per cent of this ash is fly ash and 20 per cent is bottom ash. Ash is used in the cement industry but not all of the ash is utilised. It is mandatory for brick users to use fly ash and thermal power plants have to pay for transporting ash within a certain distance. However, there are limitations of these norms. Only thermal plants are measured for ash utilisation, and other users of coal are not monitored. Brick manufacturers are not monitored. The following questions arise. Where is the ash going? Who is paying for it? What are the financial implications? What key policies are needed to achieve higher utilisation of ash?

Dr. Guttikunda and his team are able to forecast the amount of pollution in a place and sources of pollution. A mix of pollutants exists. There are some pollutants for which it is difficult to understand which sectors these pollutants are coming from, given the primary and secondary contributions. Carbon Monoxide has pollution sources from thermal power plants, the transport sector, cooking and heating. Open fires in Punjab and Haryana are a new source for carbon monoxide, that contribute to 10 per cent of carbon monoxide pollution. If this information is overlaid with wind pattern information, it is found that winds from Punjab and Haryana bring pollution to Delhi.

Not much of ash is being used in the brick industry even though there are norms for brick kilns to use more ash. Surveys suggest that brick owners have their concerns of not being able to sell a desired amount of ash bricks to individual house builders. There is always a stock pile that is left out. Dr. Guttikunda researched where brick kilns are, how much pollution they are producing and how they are producing pollution. He showed a map of a cluster of 850 brick kilns in and around Delhi. In the 1990s, there was an ordinance that all brick kilns have to move out of Delhi, such that brick kilns are now positioned just across the Delhi border. Today, there are 200 brick kilns in Ghaziabad, and 100 kilns in Rohini. While many brick kilns did move out of Delhi or got positioned at the periphery of Delhi, the kilns continued to use the same technology. Notably, there are no brick kilns in South Delhi. However, 10 per cent of pollution in Delhi comes from the brick kilns across the border, especially during the brick manufacturing season that takes place between October and March.

The above phenomenon also occurs in Chennai and other cities. There are 500 brick kilns outside the Chennai border. However, there is a difference between cities, in terms of the kind of fuel being used. In Chennai, in addition to the similar use of coal and agriculture residue for energy, there is use of bunker fuel due to the presence of a port.

Occupational health hazards are very high due to exposure to different fuels.  There are solutions though, if plants continue to use dirty fuels. The technology being used has to change for these fuels to be burnt more efficiently. Dr. Guttikunda described an acceptance of his work in Bihar, where kilns have changed technology in order to achieve a 50 per cent increase in efficiency.

Like other products of the Brookings Institution India Center, this article is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues. The views are of the author(s). Brookings India does not have any institutional views.

Speaker Profile:

Dr. Sarath Guttikunda, Founder and Director of UrbanEmissions, conducts research on air pollution (most recently @ http://www.indiaairquality.info). His interest stems from the guidance he received during his Bachelors at the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur, India) and during his Doctorate from the Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa in the United States.

Dr. Guttikunda has worked as an air pollution analyst at the World Bank in Washington, DC. He returned to India in 2007, and has since been conducting research in an independent capacity with various organisations and research institutions.

He is an affiliate associate research professor at the Desert Research Institute, Reno, USA.

In 2009, Dr. Guttikunda became part of the global TED fellows community and is an active member of the OpenAQ community.

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