Technology to manage distillery effluents

Technology to manage distillery effluents

The afterlife of a wasteland

One man's tipple could be another man's poison, especially if the distillery producing your drink loads its surrounding areas with polluting effluents. It turns out that many distilleries across India dispose of effluents by dumping them into their backyards, thereby threatening the natural fertility of the soil in the area.

Innovate and renovate

Dark-coloured, highly organic effluents at the loading site

The problem posed by distillery effluents runs, literally, pretty deep– run-off effluents percolate into surrounding fields, thereby polluting soil and damaging its structure. The task at hand is twofold: to dispose of effluents in an environment-friendly manner, and to reclaim the effluent-loaded sites that have turned into wastelands.

The team at TERI's Centre for Mycorrhiza Research has found an innovative way to manage effluent disposal in the country. It tried its HRTS (high-rate transpiration system) technology to reclaim the effluent loaded site of a distillery in Madhya Pradesh. The technology employs mycorrhizae and a few other useful microbes to restore greenery.

Pollution, distilled

In a day, this distillery produces 90 000 litres of alcohol and discharges about 1.2 million litres of effluents, producing 15 times more waste than the product itself. Moreover, the dumping site that TERI had to reclaim had suffered six years of regular loading of distillery effluents that were rich in organic and acute salinity (electrical conductivity as high as 34.4 mS/cm2 as against the normal value of less than 1). Besides these impurities, the waste was also highly alkaline (pH 9.4 vis-à-vis the neutral pH of 7). Over time, the site was completely saturated and could not take any more effluents.

The distillery was facing pressure from the regulators as well as the neighbouring villages where drinking water in the wells had changed colour. The land was flooded with effluents (particularly during the monsoons), and water sources around the distillery had been poisoned. An intolerably foul stench from the site perpetually hung in the air.

Though the distillery was trying to fight the situation by using techniques like natural solar drying, lagoon system for holding effluents, and preparation of vermicomposts, these were also adding to their problems–large areas of land were being used with minimal relief to the environment.

Beneficiaries

The site is now green and ready for more effluents with plants that thrive on its rich soil. This success story of the HRTS technology has left the distillery industry extremely satisfied and has improved the lives of both people and animals living around the distillery. In fact, TERI was also asked to reclaim other such effluentcreated wasteland – a lagoon – that had accumulated waste over a decade and reached a dangerously high concentration of organic matter. That exercise too proved to be a huge achievement.

The ecosystem of the site saw a turnaround after the intervention–several nests were observed in the area and birds became a common sight. Scientific investigations of groundwater leaching provided further proof to the industry and pollution-control agencies of the efficacy and sustainability of the technology.

A step-by-step transformation of a solar drying lagoon into a green patch

The ecosystem of the site saw a turnaround after the intervention-several nests were observed in the area and birds became a common sight. Scientific investigations of groundwater leaching provided further proof to the industry and pollution-control agencies of the efficacy and sustainability of the technology.

What the technology offers

  • Enhanced loading of effluents in unit land area
  • Lower levels of groundwater contamination
  • Reduced land pollution of adjoining agricultural lands

The metamorphosis

To restore the dumping site, TERI aimed its efforts at an environment-friendly and aesthetic solution to effluent disposal and management in the distillery industry–the HRTS. This is a land application system wherein effluents from breweries are used in a carefully designed field layout with wide ridges, furrows, and trees that are bestowed with higher-transpiration capacity.

The distillery effluent site: before and after

A selected species of mycorrhiza is applied in the HRTS model, depending upon the soil and waste water chemical properties. To the plants, it makes available some important nutrients from the effluents, thus controlling groundwater pollution. Plants were grown on solar-dried beds using certain species of mycorrhizae that collect and supply essential micronutrients from the effluent-loaded soil to the plants.

The tricky situation was overcome with the expertise of T ERI's team and the site was restored. It turned into a commercially viable area with economic plantations like bamboo, Glaricidia, babool, munga, guava, mahaneem, and biofuel plantations of Jatropha curcas. The landscape too is far more pleasant.

Applications/benefits

The HRTS technology has been welcomed by all involved in distillery effluent management since it is a cost-effective method, allows reuse of the dumping site, and matches the standards set by environmental whistleblowers. The technology requires 32 000 rupees for nursery preparation on an acre of land. The plantation costs will amount to 180 000 rupees per acre, while maintenance of the same will cost 22 000 rupees. Revenue generation of 12 000 rupees per acre is possible once the plantation is mature. The many significant environmental benefits have not yet been analysed in monetary terms.

The technology holds immense potential in similar industrial wastelands where effluents are an unavoidable menace.