Article

(Stop) burning for biogas. Enabling positive sustainability trade-offs with business models for biogas from rice straw

Authors:
  • Straw Innovations Ltd
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Abstract

Rice is the main agricultural crop in the Philippines and central to the country's food security. One main challenge of rice farming is the management of the straw after harvest. With limited uses, the rice straw is currently burned or in some cases incorporated with significant environmental impacts. However, it can be an important feedstock for sustainable bioenergy and support energy access in the Philippines. The research was conducted around a 1000 m³ biogas pilot plant in Laguna province, Philippines. The aim of this research was to develop business models and assess their potential for improving energy access, agricultural practices, and empowering local rice-growing communities. Four business models were developed, reflecting energy supply and demand approaches. This was informed by interviews with stakeholders, including farmers, agricultural entrepreneurs, local authorities, and policymakers in the case study location. A multi-criteria assessment was conducted to evaluate synergies and trade-offs between different aspects of the business models. While all business models provided positive environmental, economic, and in particular social sustainability impacts, the farming community showed the most support for approaches that provide wider livelihood benefits beyond renewable energy access, such as diversification of agricultural activities and income generation. This demonstrated that bioenergy has the potential to create a virtuous circle of benefits for local communities in support of sustainable development. To achieve this, it is essential to take a holistic and multi-level approach to the different sustainability criteria to maximise benefits and mitigate negative impacts of bioenergy systems beyond energy technology.

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Decision-making is the study of identifying and choosing alternatives to find the best solution based on different factors and considering the decision makers’ expectations. Every decision is made within a decision environment, which is defined as the collection of information, alternatives, values and preferences available at the time when the decision must be made. The difficult point in decision-making is the multiplicity of the criteria set for judging the alternatives.
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Rice residues are important natural resources, and recycling of these residues improves the soil physical, chemical and biological properties. Management of rice straw is a major challenge as it is considered to be a poor feed for the animals due to high silica content. This paper reviews the potential of rice residues and its management options, residue effects on soil properties and crop productivity. On the basis of reported research results by different researchers, an analysis has been made. A rice-wheat sequence that yields 7 t ha-1 of rice and 4 t ha-1 of wheat removes more than N 300, P 30 and K 300 kg ha-1 from the soil; the residues of rice and wheat amount to as much as 7-10 t ha-1 yr-1. South Asian farmers need to manage 5-7 t ha-1 of rice residues and overcome the problems for planting wheat. Management options are: burning, incorporation, surface retention and mulching, and baling and removing the straw. Despite some advantages like killing of deleterious pests and clearing the piles before wheat planting, burning results huge losses of N (up to 80%), P (25%), K (21%) and S (4-60%), air pollution (@ CO 2 13 t ha-1) depriving soils of organic matter (SOM). This loss of SOM is one of the recognized threats to sustainability. Incorporation leads to build up of SOM, soil N, P and K. The major disadvantage of incorporation is the immobilization of inorganic N. However, N at 15-20 kg ha-1 as starter dose with straw incorporation increases yield of wheat and rice compared to burning. Surface retention of residues increases soil NO 3-by 46%, N uptake by 29%, and yield by 37% compared to burning. Residue management practices affect soil physical properties viz. soil moisture, temperature, aggregate formation, bulk density and hydraulic conductivity. Soil temperature is influenced through the change in radiant energy balance and insulation. Rice crop residues are highly siliceous, and have the potential of transforming electrochemical properties of acidic soils that reduces P fixation; improving base retention and increasing the soil pH. Rice straw incorporation coupled with organic manure increases grain yield of wheat and improves soil physical condition. Residue incorporation results more microbial activity than residue removal or burning. Thus, if residues are managed properly, then it can warrant the improvements in soil properties and the sustainability in crop productivity.
Article
Crop residues, usually considered a problem, when managed correctly can improve soil organic matter dynamics and nutrient cycling, thereby creating a rather favorable environment for plant growth. The intelligent management and utilization of crop residues is essential for the improvement of soil quality and crop productivity under rice-based cropping systems of the tropics. Viable option is to retain residue in the field; burning should be avoided. The major issue is adapting drills to sow into loose residues. Strategies include chopping and spreading of straw during or after combining or the use of disc-type trash drills. Residues rich in lignin and polyphenol contents experience the lowest decay. Decomposition of crop residues occurs at a rapid rate—about 80% of crop residue C is lost in the first year—under the warm and humid conditions of the tropics. Factors that control C decomposition also affect the N mineralization from the crop residues. Decomposition of poor-quality residues with low N contents, high C:N ratios, and high lignin and polyphenol contents generally results in microbial immobilization of soil and fertilizer N. Nutrient cycling in the soil–plant ecosystem is an essential component of sustainable productive agricultural enterprise. Although during the last three decades, fertilization practices have played a dominant role in the rice-based cropping systems, crop residues—the harvest remnants of the previous crop still play an essential role in the cycling of nutrients. Incorporation of crop residues alters the soil environment that in turn influences the microbial population and activity in the soil and subsequent nutrient transformations.
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