“Inspired by Nature, run by humans” A2P Energy: from the lab, to the field, to the UN
In 2015, the Oglesby Charitable Trust made an initial funding commitment to a fledgling environmental project in India, also supported by Aston University in the UK.
The project, which became A2P Energy, set out to tackle the dangerous, destructive practice of open field straw burning in India, and in its place to offer sustainable, accessible solutions that would benefit individuals, communities and the environment.
Very few Indian farmers can afford the time and machinery to plough the straw back into the ground where it would decompose over time. Fewer still can afford the additional watering that this would require. There is a short window between harvests, and so the speed at which fields can be cleared through burning is compelling.
35 million tonnes of straw is produced every year: most of it is burned on the fields. This contributes to a widespread air quality challenge that means that breathing in Delhi in the winter is like smoking 50 cigarettes a day. Children in parts of India where straw burning is prevalent have smaller lungs than their peers in the US or UK. India has the world’s highest rate of death from respiratory disease, with 159 per 100,000 in 2012, about 10 times that of Italy, five times that of the UK and twice that of China.
India has taken measures to improve the air quality such as:
- Banning private car use for two-week periods and an ‘odd/even’ scheme;
- Campaigning to reduce its use of fireworks during the Diwali holiday celebrations;
- Construction and demolition work was banned for limited periods
- Closing the coal-based Badarpur power plant
The biggest source of the problem however – despite it being illegal under Indian law – is the burning of the rice and wheat crop fields.
Working with the team at Aston and in India, the goals we wanted to achieve by reducing open field burning include the following:
- To improve air quality in target locations, improving health and quality of life, and reducing carbon, as part of the global effort to tackle climate change;
- To prevent bio-diversity losses and restore soil quality;
- To stimulate local economies by creating an alternative industry that repurposes stubble waste and establishes a local supply chain.
At the outset we supported the design and manufacture of a Pyroformer, which converted the agricultural waste into pyrolosis-oil and bio-char for use in energy generation, soil improvement and as fuel for cooking. Extensive testing assessed the viability of blending bio-fuel with standard fuel for use in agricultural and other machinery – and this is ongoing.
The team engineered the transformation of unwieldy straw harvests into robust concentrated pellets, which are now being used as a bio-sustainable fuel source, at scale, as well as creating feedstock and bio- char for improving soil quality and harvest. Extensive partnership and supply chain development, combined with lab and field testing and a culture of entrepreneurship has steadily transformed this project into the sustainable, impactful offer that we remain proud to be associated with today.
In 19/20, their activity avoided 700 acres being burnt; 2m kgs of CO2 were saved and 1,190 tonnes of fossil fuel will be replaced. 15 permanent and 34 temporary jobs were created, and $30,000 was generated from the sale of the straw.
Today, A2P Energy is said to be the first company in India to commercialise products made out of 100% rice stubble. Innovation is increasingly important as the company seeks to diversify to counter the challenges to their markets created by the global health pandemic. Work in development includes sustainable packaging materials, particle-board, bio-fuel, and Tri-Generation power. Partners now include: Cisco, World Wide Fund, IKEA, Coromandel, World Bank Group, PepsiCo and more.
It has been deeply satisfying for us as a Trust to have walked alongside the A2P Energy team for so many years and to now see some of the early environmental goals we set together starting to be achieved. Here’s a short film about where they are now.
Partly experimental at the outset, we can now measure success in the farmers and supply chain that have a real stake in choosing not to burn their fields between harvests. We are hugely hopeful that the success that has been proven to date will continue to be replicated and ultimately will result in continuing environmental, health and economic benefits.
A2P Energy has in recent years won numerous high profile awards, most recently being selected by the United Nations Development Programme as one of the top three companies in India working to combat Air Pollution. This winter, A2P Energy aims to prevent 6,000 acres of straw being burnt, but the worldwide network accessible via the UNDP offers access to global markets and opportunities that we hope will lead to many more thousands of acres being conserved, benefitting this and future generations.
This Friday, 2nd October 2020, at 9.30am GMT, Kate Vokes, Chair of the Oglesby Charitable Trust, will join the A2P Energy team for a live webinar as part of the UNDP’s Air Pollution Outreach Campaign where she will reflect on the Trust’s involvement in this work. We are delighted that A2P Energy has been honoured with this opportunity.
The event is being streamed via Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/UNDPinIndia and will be available afterwards.