This is why I’m writing today about a small but fast-growing off-grid electricity company based in Bihar called Husk Power Systems. It has created a system to turn rice husks into electricity that is reliable, eco-friendly and affordable for families that can spend only $2 a month for power. The company has 65 power units that serve a total of 30,000 households and is currently installing new systems at the rate of two to three per week.
One day he ran into a salesman who sold gasifiers — machines that burn organic materials in an oxygen restricted environment to produce biogas which can be used to power an engine. There was nothing new about gasifiers; they had been around for decades. People sometimes burned rice husks in them to supplement diesel fuel, which was expensive. “But nobody had thought to use rice husks to run a whole power system,” explained Pandey.
In Bihar, poverty is extreme. Pretty much everything that can be used will be used — recycled or burned or fed to animals. Rice husks are the big exception. When rice is milled, the outside kernel, or husk, is discarded. Because the husk contains a lot of silica, it doesn’t burn well for cooking. A recent Greenpeace study (pdf) reports that Bihar alone produces 1.8 billion kilograms of rice husk per year. Most of it ends up rotting in landfills and emitting methane, a greenhouse gas.