JBM Group: Focus on converting waste to worth

Founded in 1983, the JBM Group is a global conglomerate with diverse businesses that make up the EV eco-system – electric vehicles, e-buses, EV aggregates and charging infrastructure, environment management, renewable energy, auto components and systems, and conventional buses. Currently, the company employs a global workforce over 25,000 and generates a revenue of $2.2 billion. Headquartered in Delhi NCR, JBM has established more than 20 international alliances across the USA, China, Japan and Europe.

In line with the ongoing global industry sentiment, the company has made significant strides to accelerate the energy transition, both in terms of its operations and the projects it has adopted recently. JBM’s environment management unit, JBM Enviro, primarily operates in three segments – waste-to-energy, renewable energy and battery energy storage systems and e-mobility.

The company has outlined a vision to become a front-runner in the waste management business in India over the next five years. Its waste management profile primarily involves waste collection from various sources, followed by compaction and transportation to transfer points. After this, the waste is segregated and connected to corresponding processing units. Dry waste is utilised in waste-to- energy plants while organic waste is processed and utilised in bio-gas plants. The company forayed into waste management with a project based in Chennai and Ambattur, Tamil Nadu. The project entailed door-to-door collection of municipal solid waste (MSW), road sweeping and O&M of transfer stations. Over a concession period of seven years, more than 8 million tonnes of urban waste was managed under the project.

Integrated waste-to-energy project

JBM Group after gaining experience in municipal waste management of Chennai and Ambattur in Tamil Nadu signed a concession agreement from JBM Environment Management with the Government of Haryana to build and operate India’s first integrated solid waste management project  in PPP Model in Sonepat, The contract was awarded in  2017. The plant received environmental clearance in June 2019 and began commercial operations in August 2021.

The company has been engaged in the collection of door-to-door household waste in the Sonepat- Panipat cluster for almost seven years and caters to almost 0.2 million households daily in the four cities of Sonepat, Panipat, Gannaur and Samalkha. The plant generates power of roughly 8 MW and has a lifespan of 20 years. It entails the collection and transportation of MSW from all clusters and processes it into power and other products. Proven German incineration technology has been adopted for converting MSW to power, efficiently and consistently. To further improve the scientific management and treatment of the plant,  a robust European designed Flue Gas Cleaning System (FGCS) has been places to ensure that all emissions are within the prescribed limits of the pollution control board.

Moreover, the plant is designed as a “zero waste plant”, where resources are optimally utilised to create a waste inclusive ecosystem. For instance, the water content retrieved from the MSW is treated and utilised in the boiler. Besides, the ash and residues generated during the process are scientifically handled and disposed of to ensure that no part of the project cycle is neglected. A key advantage of the plant is its proximity to the electric substation, which minimises transmission losses.

The company’s waste-to-energy segment operates on a three-pronged business model. The company has PPA with discom for supply of power at Rs 6.84 per kWh. It is also paid for scientific processing and disposal of waste by  the municipal corporation for every tonne of MSW. In addition, the municipal corporation also pays collection and transportation charges of MSW collected by company.

Key issues and challenges

Speaking about the existing challenges in the sector, Vinay Maheshwari, President, Group Projects at JBM Group, highlighted that the waste-to-energy industry is relatively new in India. “While there is willingness in the industry to foray into the segment, there also exist fundamental issues. The foremost concern is the low calorific value of Indian waste owing to the lack of waste segregation in the country. Source segregation is a challenge on multiple fronts as households are not habituated to segregating their waste However, one can expect a positive change over the coming years through greater awareness and education. Under our Sonepat project, we undertake awareness programmes among school children to promote appropriate waste segregation habits among the coming generations,” he said. “Moreover, at present, the nature of the waste industry in India differs significantly from that in Europe although Indian norms for waste-to-worth projects align with European norms. Our plant sets a global benchmark with EU norms for flue gas cleaning and its emissions. However, at this juncture, establishing norms based on the Indian waste management segment’s characteristics and requirements will be crucial to boost the sector.”

Maheshwari further added, “In an integrated model the biggest challenge we face today is the absence of a gate fee for the collection and management of waste. At present, the waste collection is compensated on the basis of the energy output generated. The concept of gate fee is prevalent in Europe and other Asian countries , wherein a company is compensated upfront for the collection and disposal of waste. Introducing this concept in India will be crucial to enable the adoption of the sector on a large scale. Output-based payment means that while the plant produces power for 300 days, the plant operates year-round in terms of waste collection and management. As a result, 60 days of costs are purely borne by the companies without the presence of a gate fee. Early industry estimates suggest that a pre-determined gate fee ranging from Rs 1,200 to Rs 1,500 per metric tonne of waste collected will be suitable for power producers.

Investments in the sector are relatively low due to several reasons. Discom and municipal corporation credit ratings significantly impact investor sentiment as money repayment by corporations and discoms of certain states is a pertinent issue. Prior to 2011-12, existing technologies for waste-to-energy were not viable for Indian conditions. While there has been significant progress, identifying the ideal technologies for the nature of waste in India is also crucial. The requirements of technical qualifications in tenders create barriers for new entrants in the segment. Moreover, investors are averse to the sector as business viability has not been achieved for most existing projects and the trend is expected to continue for potential projects unless appropriate regulatory support is provided. The creation of a central body in the form of a waste regulator that can lay down standards and rules to be followed throughout the country is also a necessary task for the government.”

Outlook for the company

India, with the highest population in the world, houses eight to nine operational waste-to-energy projects at present, whereas a country with the same population, China, has the largest installed waste-to-energy capacity in the world, which has been increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 29 per cent. In 2021, the total installed capacity of China’s waste-to-energy plants was estimated at 17.29 GW, while even until March 2023, India had only installed 554 MW of waste-to-energy capacity. Therefore, the scope of growth in the sector is immense and JBM has been a front runner in utilising this opportunity in India.

JBM has also signed an MoU with the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to set up compressed biogas (CBG) plants under the SATAT scheme. Under this, the company aims to establish projects that utilise up to 250 TPD of organic and other feedstock to generate up to 10 tonnes per day (TPD) of CBG. It also aims to develop distributed solutions for the commercial and industrial segment. In this regard, the company is set to take off its first CBG project in Lucknow to process 200 TPD of organic feedstock. The plant is expected to generate 7 TPD of CBG.

Today, municipal corporations and urban local bodies in India face a massive challenge of processing and disposing available legacy waste. Obtaining refuse-derived fuel (RDF) from the piles of waste generated each day in the country will be imperative, either through expanding existing plants or awarding new plants in the near future

Going forward, the company is likely to hold its ground in the waste-to-energy and CBG segments while foraying into fuel cell buses and green hydrogen. The company shows immense promise in its efforts to drive energy transition in the country although its projects are still in the early stages. It will be interesting to see how the company tackles the current challenges in the clean energy sector in the coming years.

 By Kasvi Singh