Entering the carbon market

CNG burns cleaner than petrol and diesel. In the internal combustion engines used in automotives, CNG produces CO emissions which are less by 80 per cent and hydrocarbons by 44 per cent than conventional fuels like petrol and diesel. Fuel consumption is also less.

CNG cylinders are also stronger and safer than gasoline tanks, provided installation is done according to prescribed standards. Unfortunately, there is a lot to be desired in this respect in Pakistan.CNG ignition temperature is 600 C, almost double that of petrol and diesel. This means that the fire risk of CNG engines or cylinders should be lower than that of petrol and diesel engines.

In Pakistan, there is opposition to CNG; commercial vehicle operators have been indulging in unsafe practices while installing CNG kits. It is also considered to be a waste of resources, keeping in mind the continuing scarcity of gas. Despite all this, there is a continuing demand for CNG and reportedly around 2500 CNG stations are still operating.

CNG, compressed natural gas, can be obtained from bio-organic sources as well, thus saving fossil gas whose reserves are going down on a yearly basis. The alternative product, although chemically the same as CNG, is called bio-methane. Biogas is of two types: one, raw gas consisting almost equally of both methane and CO2; it can be used for cooking and other miscellaneous uses. The other is biomethane which consists solely of methane, apart from some small impurities; this is used in automotives as fuel after compressing it.

Currently most of the dung, bio-solid waste goes into air in the form of methane and CO2. There are very few plants that may convert and capture it to be used as methane. If biogas and biomethane plants are installed, it would have two advantages – supply of green energy/gas and reduction in GHG emissions. Methane emission is 28-80 times more dangerously effective than CO2 against the climate change process. Thus biogas and bio-methane are great multi-benefit products. In addition to earning revenue from gas, one can earn revenue from the carbon market too.

There are companies and organizations which cause excess GHG emissions. They have an option to let other people, companies or nations engage in activities that reduce their GHG emissions. They may do it cheaply due to their resource endowment – for example, we have many opportunities to engage in forestry, mangroves cultivation, and also in the production of biogas. We will get carbon credit for that which we can sell to a GHG producer like an oil refinery or a group can buy this credit from us. It has been estimated that Pakistan has a potential of earning $200 million a year by participating in the carbon market.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has been lagging in carbon market participation. Reportedly, only 10 projects have been registered with the UNFCCC and even fewer projects have started earning. Even Nepal and Bangladesh have done more in this respect with 80 projects between them. And India and China have developed around 1600+ projects.

However, there is one success story that must be mentioned here: the mangrove development project in Sindh which has already earned $40 million in carbon credit. It is expected to earn another $60 million. Over a period of the 75-year life of the project, total carbon earnings of this project have been estimated to be $12 billion. Similarly, there is tremendous potential in forestry, agriculture and energy conservation.

Biogas and biomethane projects have already been approved as an eligible project for the carbon market by competent international authorities like the UNFCCC. Countries from Africa, and Vietnam and India have developed these projects and are developing more. Thus, Pakistan will not have to waste time and resources to get the type approval in this respect. It would be useful here to briefly mention a biogas project in India. There is an Indore Bio-CNG plant in India which processes 550 tons of organic solid municipal waste and converts it into 17 tons of bio-CNG per day earning 130,000 carbon credits. One unit of Carbon credit may earn as much as $25.

Pakistan has the potential to produce 4.63 billion M3 only from cattle dung. If 70 per cent is collected, 3.24 billion M3 of biogas can be utilized. Other organic sources and biomass waste are extra. Some calculations and studies would be required to compute carbon revenue. However, it is evident that a good revenue potential for foreign exchange is there. This is besides the energy value that would be sold in the market.

It should be noted that both unprocessed biogas for rural homes and processed bio-methane for bio-CNG and feeding into gas pipe grids, can and should be produced. Both can earn Carbon revenue. It may be noted that Biogas production also results in the two main products – CO2 and green fertilizers. The CO2 industry can be developed which has uses in cold chain for refrigeration and air-conditioning. These may, apart from generating their intrinsic benefits and income, also generate direct or indirect carbon revenues.

There has been a pessimistic outlook on the development of the biogas and bio-methane industry, probably due to lack of awareness and deeper investigation. India has embarked upon a bio-CNG programme involving installation of 5000 Bio-CNG plants. China and many ASEAN countries have built millions of rural biogas plants. Both rural and urban economic and social life can be influenced positively by the biogas industry.

Pakistan has updated its commitment to GHG reduction by 50 per cent by the year 2030. There are two parts to it: 15 per cent unconditional commitment and 35 per cent conditional commitment. These are substantial commitments and innovative and creative approaches will have to be developed and fast-tracked.

By developing credible projects, Pakistan may be able to mobilize concessional grants and get higher values for its carbon projects. Biogas is an opportunity which will have multi-pronged benefits, besides contributing significantly to reducing the energy/gas supply gap. And it will also be liked by the IFIs and other bodies. The country is passing through grave economic problems, especially in terms of forex deficit. Fast track approaches and actions are recommended.

Lack of a policy framework has sent away many potential investors, both local and foreign. This programme will be wholly invested into by the private sector and no public resources would be required. But nobody will spend his money in a policy vacuum. A framework that encompasses all the relevant aspects, risks and finances is needed.

The writer is a former member of the Energy Planning Commission. He can be reached at: akhtarali1949@gmail.com

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