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The forest department along with Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee is set to design a portable machine to make briquettes out of pine needles, that is a major source of forest fire in the state. Forest officials are in touch with engineers to finalise the plan.

As per Forest Research Institute (FRI), pine trees constitute 26.07% of the total forest cover of 24,295 sq km. The trees, however, are mostly spread above the altitude of 1,000m, that constitute 95.49% cover. As per FRI reports, pine trees are a major cause of ground fire as the combustible needles falling off catches fire and also hinders regeneration.

Earlier, there have been several failed attempts by the forest department to support local clearing and utilisation of the needles. But the officers still haven’t lost hope.

“We have been planning to design a portable machine that could make briquettes. If IIT Roorkee is successful in this, then we can give them to the local van panchayats. This would, in turn, help generate livelihood for locals by engaging them in needle collection,” head of forest force (HoFF) and principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF), Jai Raj said.
Over 613 hectare of forest land have been gutted in wildfire this year, posing an estimated revenue loss of over
Rs 10.57 lakh. The loss reported in 2017 was 1,245 hectare and in 2016 was 4,434 hectare.

Briquettes are blocks of compressed coal used as an alternative for fuel wood. The traditional briquette machines are big and need regular maintenance. The officers are trying to design a smaller version that wouldn’t have the hassle of adhesives and other raw materials.

Briquette manufacturing isn’t new here. In 1988-89, few companies came forward to convert the needles to briquettes, but the transit cost made the business unprofitable. Even collection was a challenge as the needles are light weight and fetch only Re 1 per kg to the local, an announcement made by chief minister TS Rawat after taking charge of state. The companies were also paying Re 1 to van panchayats concerned and 10 paise to government as royalty.

In less than three years, the companies were forced to shut their business due to the loss incurred. According to forest officers, there are two companies that are still converting needles to bio-gas, but private stakeholders are not expanding business besides Almora.

“We are in consultation with IIT Roorkee for the project. We are equally concerned about the problem caused by needles and might be able to come up with a solution soon,” Kapil Joshi, chief conservator of forest (CCF) Forest Training Institute (FTI), Haldwani, said.

First Published: Apr 23, 2018 21:45 IST

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By udaen

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