Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Field Burning and the Pyroformer™: An Introduction

by Sparshita Dey and Viva Avasthi 

Copyright © Aaron Joel Santos / NOI Pictures

As part of our work experience, we chose to work at Aston University in Birmingham for two weeks where we are involved in some research regarding “an innovative sustainable energy solution developed by the EBRI (European Bioenergy Research Institute) that could dramatically reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels”. This solution, namely the Pyroformer™,  aims to tackle the problems created through agricultural field burning (also known as 'stubble burning'). 

Why do farmers burn their fields?

So why is field burning a problem?

Despite its benefits for the farmers, agricultural field burning has many drawbacks. Some of the main concerns include health implications created by particulates (very small carbon molecules) which may trigger conditions like asthma or cancer (in extreme cases) , increasing healthcare costs for many. For example, in Punjab, India, locals' healthcare costs have increased by Rs. 1000 on average. For many of these rural citizens, the potentially avoidable increase in cost is exceedingly troublesome as their family income is limited. Aside from this, the thick smoke plumes and  suffocating conditions make working and living in the area very difficult.  

On a global scale, field burning has obvious implications due to the process of combustion. The expulsion of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide contributes towards global warming. The release of gases such as sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides results in the production of acid rain. Furthermore, particulates, which are able to reflect sunlight away from the surface of the Earth, can cause global dimming.

For these reasons, it is in the interest of everybody across the world that field burning is stopped.  

Where does it occur?

Field Burning occurs globally, but from our research we found that certain areas were particularly associated with the issues relating to field burning. Some of these are illustrated on the map: 

Blank map courtesy National Geographic Education. National Geographic does not review or endorse content added to this background by others.

How can the Pyroformer™ help?

The Pyroformer™ converts agricultural waste (or stubble) into three useful products: bio-oil, bio-gas and bio-char. All three can be used as fuels and bio-char can also be used in animal farming, the building sector, remediation, water treatment and bio-gas production. Through using the Pyroformer™, emissions of carbon dioxide in the Indian state of Punjab alone will be reduced by 200 tonnes/year and emissions of particulates by 1.7 tonnes/year. 

The following video explains more about how the Pyroformer™ works:

What does our project involve?

Over the next couple of days we will be creating case studies specific to these three locations: 
  • São Paulo, Brazil
  • the KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa
  • Punjab, India

In the final article we will be comparing the potential for the Pyroformer™ in all three regions using primary data provided by Aston University. 


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