Published: 14th April 2021
How this Mysuru college is powering a green tech revolution that's changing the district's energy signature
Everybody talks about going green, but much of it is limited to theory. At NIE, a group of students and professors are enforcing change in small but significant ways and their reach is evident
India, along with 193 countries, has signed a treaty to work towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030. All the countries have committed to work towards lesser poverty, cleaner water and better sanitation, affordable and cleaner energy and so on. While it is going to take a superhuman effort to get there on schedule, it is people like Professor Shamsundar Subbarao from the Mechanical Engineering department at National Institute of Engineering, Mysuru who are working round the clock to to introduce people to green technologies.
Shamsundar explains, "Green tech uses renewable sources of energy like wind, solar, biowaste and rainwater to create a sustainable life around us. We know that there are many people working to reduce pollution by planting trees, cleaning lakes and rivers, but what about the sources of energy that are getting exhausted rapidly? I think this is where technology plays an important role and CREST is trying to showcase the wonders one can create by using simple kitchen waste generated at home. We have a lot left to achieve by 2030 and very little time to do it in."
We speak to him to know how NIE's CREST has introduced green tech in college campus, households in Mysuru and even at the famous Mysore Palace. Experts from an interesting interview:
CREST has been doing a lot of interesting things. Tell us how the initiative got started?
CREST is one of the oldest organisations at The National Institute of Engineering (NIE), Mysuru. Initially, the organisation was known as CART - Centre for Appropriate Rural Technologies (CART) in 1990 that took giant steps to give shape to ideas and engineering solutions with real-world impact. Meanwhile, in 2008, I took over CART and renamed it as Centre for Renewable Energy & Sustainable Technologies (CREST). Though we are over 40 years old, we have left no stone unturned to explore green technology.
Talking about renewable energy and sustainable technologies, what kind of projects are you working on?
We work on different verticals when it comes to renewable energy and sustainable technologies. In one vertical, we provide service to society by supporting and providing knowledge to people in rural and urban areas in adopting renewable energy and sustainability. For instance, we are working on renewable energy microgrids through which we want to provide electricity in remote villages for 24 hours and 365 days. As a pilot project, we have installed a microgrid in a hamlet called Hemmige Haadi, which is on the outskirts of Mysuru city. With the help of a local NGO called DEED (Development Through Education), we tried to connect with the tribals living in this hamlet and convinced them to install a one KW microgrid.
We have connected solar panels, installed wind turbines and a bio-diesel unit that helps us electrify at least eight homes in a hamlet. Every home needs electricity and it is crucial. This project was inspired by the same thought. Such is the magic that one can create using solar, wind and bio-diesel energy. Now, we plan to replicate the same concept in other hamlets where at least 4,000 tribals have been living. Our objective is bigger because we not only want to light these hamlets in Mysuru but we want to reach remotest villages in Leh, Ladakh, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshwadeep Islands where taking regular electricity is tough, as well as expensive.
And these projects have been very useful for the district, we hear?
CREST is working in collaboration with the Karnataka State Bio-Fuel Development Board to disseminate bio-fuel activities in Mysuru district. We have installed a small bio-diesel unit at NIE CREST where we prepare biodiesel. There are certain methods to prepare biodiesel and one of them includes the used vegetable oil from hotels and restaurants. Vegetable oil is adulterated and it is bad to health. Hence, we take this oil and convert it into diesel by the method of transesterification. In a batch, we produce 50 litres of biodiesel. Not just using vegetable oil, we also use oil produced by pongamia trees (Honge mara), Neem tree and oil from few other seeds and trees. This will definitely reduce the import of crude oil from other countries to India, our country can become self-sufficient, the economy will improve if the import of oil reduces. Besides giving local employment to people, it has a greater advantage on environment. The Carbon-di-oxide emission is reduced by 30 per cent and the carbon monoxide emission is almost zero, hydrogen sulfide emission is also zero.
You have extensively worked on kitchen biowaste projects in and around Mysuru. Can you tell us more about it?
Among the green technologies that we have introduced to people in and around Mysuru, producing energy from the kitchen biowaste is also one of them. We take the leftover food, tea powder, coffee powder and so much more waste and use it to produce energy. I have implemented the kitchen biowaste method at our home as well our college campus. The canteen at NIE cooks food using the energy produced from kitchen biowaste. We can save around 30 to 40 per cent of the Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) we'd normally use by using kitchen biowaste. Around 50 households in Mysuru have installed the kitchen biowaste technology at their home. I think we should also look at the waste management process. We are able to manage 100 per cent of the kitchen waste both at home and college.
Then, there is also rainwater harvesting which has become essential in today's climate change equation. We started a campaign called Mane Inda Aramane (From home to palace) for rainwater harvesting. Not just at homes, we have installed the rainwater harvesting method at the Mysore Palace, Silk factory, Administrative Training Institute and so on. In 2009, we planned the rainwater harvesting technology at the palace and today they are reaping the benefits from it. They are able to harvest around 2 crore litres of water every year and 20 lakh litres of storage capacity exists in the palace.
How are you involving students from colleges in NIE CREST activities?
Initially, when we started activities at CREST, we had to request students to be part of it. But the scenario has changed now. Since they see that these activities are unique, they come and volunteer for CREST. They will not only get hands on experience but some students who are bookworms can come out and see how technology is impacting us positively. At the same time, Visvesvaraya Technological University which was observing our activities at NIE decided to include a concept called Activity Points. According to this, the students have to get 100 Activity Points at the end of their engineering graduation. By working with CREST, they will earn 20 points for 80 hours of activities. These 80 hours includes going to villages, contacting and talking to people for specified activities. The VTU has included a list of activities organised by CREST so that students can participate and earn points from it. Last week, students from three different branches of engineering were at Hemmige Haadi assisting us in the installation of microgrid. I think this is one of the best opportunities for them to get exposure to real problems in India. Since NIE is an autonomous, we have made renewable energy as a compulsory subject for Mechanical Engineering students.
What are your plans for the future of CREST?
Think Globally, Act Locally is our mantra at CREST. As an organisation of Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technologies, we want to grow bigger by collaborating with other organisations. Networking is with other organisations is the way to achieve our sustainable goals. Gone are those days when a single organisation would achieve everything. For instance, three days ago, I was invited by an NGO, Help Us Help Them. They are building a school for over 1000 children and I was there to share my ideas of introducing sustainable technology at the school. Similarly, we are collaborating with the University of Kathmandu in Nepal, University of Kassel, Germany that are researching on green technologies. We think we can do much more when we collaborate and achieve more through collaboration for the global needs of tomorrow.