Building a Circular Biorefinery
Shri Samir S Somaiya
Chairman & Managing Director
Godavari Biorefineries Ltd

Circular Economy is the talk of the time. Almost all the organizations these days have been practicing to achieve it. Here the author articulates the practices being followed by Godavari Biorefineries.

Previously the World used to utilize resources in a linear fashion. We have been hearing more about the circularity as we discuss the ban on single -use plastic bags. But if we think deeper, much of our current consumption is driven by 'single-use', which is nothing but the linear approach. This is the basis of the oil economy - extraction of petroleum from the earth, its conversion to fuels and products that we consume, and then disposal of the same. We need to 'kick' this oil habit.

There is a fundamental shift in such thinking. In the petroleum economy, what you have today is less than what you had yesterday. We measure resources in terms of years of resources left. There will be a 'sunset' to these resources. In the circular economy, the use of renewable resources is important; and if done right, what you have today, can be as much as what you had the previous day. This is the fundamental paradigm shift.

Godavari Biorefineries has always believed in a circular and cascading bio-refinery from renewable resources.

Godavari uses sugarcane as a primary feedstock from which to make sugar, biofuels (ethanol), ethanol based chemicals, renewable power, compost, bio-composites, and other products.

Every process stream is seen as a resource. The company commenced ethanol production in the 1960s, when molasses used to be considered as a waste. Today, our capacity of ethanol production is over 80 million litres per year. Over 20 years ago, Godavari pioneered the use of sugarcane bagasse as a means of producing surplus electricity to the grid. We were a recipient of a USAID grant, to demonstrate that this was possible as a means of greenhouse gas mitigation. The company also earned carbon credits and sold them in Europe, under their thenprevailing carbon credit program.

The company makes a large quantity of chemicals from ethanol for use in solvents, coatings, skincare, fragrances, mining frothers, pharmaceutical intermediates, and more. Our value chain also shows this circular approach as depicted below: An ethanol fermentation facility produces vinasse as a waste stream. We recover biogas from vinasse and compost the same along with press mud from the sugar mill and sell the same to our farmers. Part of the vinasse is also incinerated to recover steam to use that in the boiler, and the ash from the boiler is used to make bricks for sale.

Finally, we are also looking at circularity as we work with the farmer. Godavari works with over 20,000 farmers. A recent visit to a farmer's field showed that the farmer was initially using a combination of renewable resources at his farm (Panchagavya and Jeevamrut). Panchagavya are excretory elements of a cow (urine, dung, etc), and he also used garlic, chillies, jaggery as farm inputs to get very high yields. We duplicated his results to verify if that works, and are now going to spread the knowledge that farming can also be done in this circular fashion, without any decrease in yield. In fact, the soil remains healthier for the following year beause of this.