Landfill Gas: A Valuable Resource?

Landfill gas, comprised mostly of carbon dioxide and methane gas, is a byproduct of trash as it breaks down. Methane is a particularly menacing greenhouse gas, which has 20 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide. Unfortunately landfills are abundant in our society, which continue to emit landfill gas for decades after a landfill is closed. With all the bad news surrounding methane and landfills, one wouldn’t expect to hear about an innovative source of energy.
When tapped, landfill gas can be a valuable source of energy that mitigates the effects that such gas has on climate change. This energy can be used to produce electricity, heat buildings, or fuel trucks.

Fuel from Trash Will Power California Garbage Trucks

300 garbage collection trucks in California will soon be fueled by the same trash that they haul. Landfill gas will be purified and liquefied, producing up to 13,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) daily.

This facility at Waste Management’s Altamont Landfill in Livermore, California will begin operation in 2009. It comes with a price tag of $15.5 million, with grants providing $1.4 million.
Waste Management is the largest waste management company in North America and operates the largest US fleet of heavy-duty collection trucks. The company has a goal to reduce fleet emissions by 15% by 2020.
The new facility will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30,000 tons per year, according to Linde North America. LNG is a cleaner burning transportation fuel that emits less nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and particulates than diesel-fueled vehicles.
Duane Woods, senior vice president, Western group of Waste Management, said, “This will be the largest plant of its kind and we hope to break new ground by producing commercial quantities. Natural gas is already the cleanest burning fuel available for our collection trucks, and the opportunity to use recovered landfill gas offers enormous environmental benefits to the communities we serve.”
California passed a law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 and other states may follow. Demand for low-carbon fuels is expected to increase significantly in California as the state starts requiring a decrease in carbon emissions. Waste Management will be ahead of the curve by having plants like this in operation, creating lucrative business opportunities.
The University of New Hampshire to Use Landfill Gas as Primary Energy Source
The UNH will be the first university to tap into this energy source, generating both electricity and heat. Landfill gas will be transported piped to the Durham campus from Waste Management’s Turnkey Recycling and Environmental Enterprise (TREE) facility in Rochester, N.H. This landfill currently accepts over a million tons of trash each year and flares much of the excess landfill gas. This will all change later this year the UNH taps this resource.
The pipelines between UNH and TREE will be 12.7 miles long and will run 4 feet underground. After the landfill gas is routed to the campus, it will need to be enriched and purified before it is consumed. Once complete, landfill gas will provide 80%-85% of the energy consumed on the campus.
The campus relied on natural gas for both heat and electricity. Although it is one of the cleaner burning fossil fuels, it does come with a steep environmental and financial cost. Natural gas has increased significantly in cost in recent years. From 2002-2007, the price was increasing by 18.9% annually. In 2006, the university spent $12.5 million for heat and electricity. UNH is excited about both the economic and environmental impacts of this project.
“It is really exploding the myth that you have to choose between the economy and the environment,” Chief Sustainability Officer for UNH, Tom Kelly.
The energy will feed a cogenerator, which produces both heat and electricity. The project cost is an estimated $45 million, including the construction of a cogenerator for the landfill gas. Like most alternative energy projects, EcoLine has a steep upfront cost that will save money in the long-term through energy efficient utilization of landfill gas.
“By reducing the university’s dependence on fossil fuels and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, EcoLine is an environmentally and fiscally responsible initiative,” said UNH President Mark Huddleston. “UNH is proud to lead the nation and our peer institutions in this landmark step toward sustainability.”
This project is especially resource efficient because it utilizes both cogeneration technology and landfill gas. When generating electricity at most electric power plants, roughly two-thirds of the energy is lost. Heat is created as a byproduct to spin turbines and later wastes away in cooling towers. Cogenerators significantly reduce the wasted energy by utilizing the heat that is generated to make electricity. Instead of having the heat waste away, it is used to heat the school. With a 5 million square foot campus, UNH has plenty of demand for both heat and electricity.
The unlikely partnership between a university and a waste management company will reduce the UNH carbon emissions by a hefty 67% below 2005 levels and 57 % below 1990 levels. UNH anticipates this project will reduce the carbon footprint from an average of five metric tons per student to one.
The utilization of landfill gas in not new at TREE. There are currently two landfill gas-to-electric plants that generate enough power for 9,000 homes. There is more landfill gas being generated than is being utilized. These existing landfill gas plants will continue to operate and excess gas being piped to the UNH.
Related posts on alternative fuels:
* Landfill Gas Heats and Powers School
* The Cleanest Cars on Earth: Honda Civic GX and Other Natural Gas Vehicles (NGV’s)
* Natural Gas Cars: CNG Fuel Almost Free in Some Parts of the Country
Photo Credit: Waste Management

Sarah Lozanova is a green copywriter and communications professional specializing in renewable energy and clean technology. She is a consultant for Sustainable Solutions Group and a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Home Power, Earth911, and Green Builder. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine.

3 responses

  1. This is great, we should be using this type of cogeneration at every land fill – the BMW plant in South Carolina has been using the Methane from a nearby dump since January 29th 2003
    Click here for the story

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