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Is the Punjab choking Delhi?

Posted on 9 March 2017

Dr Avtar S Matharu completed a successful one-week scientific scoping mission in North India, funded by the University of York’s BBSRC Grand Challenges Research Fund Impact Acceleration Award, to explore the development of rural biorefineries to avoid the burning of agricultural residues postharvest.

The Delhi workshop was attended by industrialists, academics and students

In December 2015, Delhi was named as the ‘most polluted city in world’ surpassing Beijing. The uncontrolled burning of agricultural residues postharvest in the Punjab (North India) is often cited as a significant factor as the particulate matter (smog) is transported south due to prevailing winds. Pollution in Delhi is so extreme it may have damaged the lung function of half the city’s 4.4 million children so severely that they will never fully recover. The burning of residues in the Punjab is not going away but increasing as highlighted by recent satellite images from NASA.

Dr Matharu connected biotechnological approaches in Delhi and Chandigarh that utilise agricultural wastes generated in North India to explore generation high value chemicals, materials and bioenergy in order to create new economic wealth for a poorly utilised resource; create new jobs and supply chains; and promote better environment and health for local and surrounding populations through reduced burning of agricultural wastes.

His first workshop in Delhi, co-organised by Delhi University, the Green Chemistry Network Centre and The Energy Resources Institute (TERI), explored state-of-the-art biotechnological approaches for conversion of agricultural residues in to high value chemicals. The workshop was attended by industrialists, academics and students.

His second workshop in Chandigarh, co-organised by Panjab University and known as the ‘city of Beauty’, focused on volumes of agricultural residues, extent of burning and logistics alongside solutions for water remediation. Chandigarh sits in the heartland of the Punjab and its farming communities. In Punjab approximately 2.8 million hectares are used for rice cultivation generating 10 million tonnes of rice alongside 17 million tonnes of rice straw residues. Whilst in Chandigarh, Dr Matharu was invited to the Centre for Innovative Applied Bioprocessing (CIAB), a national institute under the Department of Biotechnology (Government of India), to explore research collaboration. The CIAB is impressive and is moving to a purpose-built facility occupying 80-hectares; it is a version of our Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence (GCCE), Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) and the Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC) all on one site.

The scoping exercise has been extremely positive, providing many answers and insights into new collaborative research opportunities. The second part of the scoping exercise is a reciprocal visit by Dr Sanjukti Subudhi, Biotechnology Convenor, TERI; Professor RK Sharma, RSC Secretary (North India), Green Chemistry Director, Delhi University; and Prof SK Mehta, Director Sophisticated Analytical Instrumentation Facility, Panjab University.