Recently, researchers in India have been studying the feasibility of using bamboo as a blade material in small-scale installations as it is light but very strong, locally grown and easily accessible, and quickly renewable. Experiments have shown that bamboo turbine blades have a slightly lower rotational speed compared to other materials which results in less energy produced per unit. But the researchers believe that the lower costs of manufacturing and the fact that bamboo blades are much easier to make could make bamboo a viable blade material for smaller wind farm installations that will supply rural areas with a clean energy source.
Brothers Mohammad Methar Hussain and Mushtaq Ahmad wanted power for irrigation and they developed a low cost windmill made out of bamboo, which is more than 10 times cheaper than the regular ones available in the market. Now, there are more than 25 such windmills running in Gujarat. Read to know more about their journey and how they did it.
These entrepreneurial brothers own two acres of land, and produce just enough paddy to feed their families. As cultivating paddy is a water-intensive task, drawing out large amounts of groundwater was difficult due to frequent power cuts. Moreover, the alternative of pumping out water using a diesel set was too expensive and hand-pumping required a lot of effort. This set the brothers thinking, and in 2003 they came up with a solution that was a much cheaper and effective alternative. They invented a simple windmill using bamboo and a tin sheet, and attached it to a hand-pump.
Image credit: Anil Gupta
Mohammad Methar Hussain and his brother Mushtaq Ahmad from Darrang district in Assam grew paddy in the winter season (also known as bodo paddy). Irrigation involved a lot of manual effort and using diesel sets for pumping water was a huge drain on the resources. To tackle this issue, Mehtra thought that if they could run a large wheel on wind power, and connect the wheel to the hand pump, that would serve their purpose quite efficiently.
So, both of them started working on making a windmill unit from locally sourced materials such as bamboo wood, strips of old tyres, pieces of iron, etc. With the help of a carpenter, the first prototype was ready in four days. Since the supporting framework was composed of bamboo, the final product costed Rs. 4500, vis-a-vis the commercially available wind mills which cost over Rs. 60,000. India is the third largest salt producing country in the world with an average annual production of about 157 lakh tonnes. The Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) supplies 21% of the total salt production of India.
Salt workers, known as Agarias, are some of the poorest people in the state. Agarias mostly used counterpoise, a method that requires two people, one for lowering the counterpoise and other for straining the water. Some of them started using diesel pumps, but the exorbitant machine and fuel costs made a huge dent in their already diminishing returns from salt farming. With the mission to improve lives of salt farmers, Gujarat Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network – West (GIAN W) along with National Innovation Foundation (NIF-India) took the lead in diffusing the innovation in salt farming areas.
Based on the feedback received from salt farmers, GIAN W improved the design and developed a multi-dimensional model which was installed at LRK in 2008. Understanding the diverse needs of farmers to increase the efficiency of windmills, GIAN W joined hands with Alstom foundation for design modification and improvement.
Benefits of the Windmill Pump
Thanks to the windmill pump, now salt farmers don’t have to slog for hours with the water pump. The windmill pump saves about Rs.50,000 worth of diesel in six months. It has decreased salt farmers’ reliance on manual labour resulting in savings of about Rs. 28,000 per season per person. Farmers can now easily recover their investments within the harvesting season.
The innovation would also result in the reduction of five tonnes of carbon emissions for every 100 tonnes of salt produced. As per NIF, on an average, every windmill-powered hand pump should generate five Carbon Emission Reductions (CERs) certificates worth Rs.3750.
Every rupee saved and milligram of carbon emission reduced is a glaring testimony of how rural innovations impact the community, society and the world at large.
In the next phase, GIAN W plans to erect more windmills in other parts of Gujarat. The salt farmers of Gujarat are indebted to Mehtar and Mustaq for making their lives more efficient and their occupation, profitable.
In China, where bamboo is plentiful and there are already thousands of bamboo plantations to provide bamboo for textiles, furniture, flooring, and a wide variety of other eco-friendly applications, plans are in place for building hundreds of wind farms using bamboo turbine blades. These farms will benefit the Chinese in several ways: They will provide a much cleaner source of energy than coal-fired power plants, additional jobs will be created in rural areas where young people have few prospects for employment, villages will have increased access to electricity, and the country may experience heightened environmental awareness, to name a few.
It is too early to tell if bamboo wind turbine blades will last as long and perform as well as blades made from other materials but researchers are cautiously optimistic that this can become another innovative use for this quickly renewable and environmentally friendly species of grass.