Using Landfill Methane to Generate Electricity

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Photo courtesy rob245/Fotolia
Landfills are now capable of being harnessed for energy

On March 22, 2001, the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, New York, received its last load of garbage. But even before reaching its limit as a depository for waste, the landfill had started on it’s second life, as a renewable energy source to provide electricity for homes — about 30,000 of them.

Landfill gases — the result of decomposing garbage — are about 50 percent methane (natural gas) and 45 percent carbon dioxide. The gases can be vacuumed from underneath a landfill and cleaned, leaving pure methane to fuel an engine that converts the energy into usable electricity. With this science, waste centers are capturing and converting the gas into natural gas reducing the smell, the threat of explosion, the damage to the ozone, and the possibility of smog formation

According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Web site, the agency launched the Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) in 1995 to encourage productive use of landfills as a part of the Clinton Administration’s 1993 US Climate Change Action Plan. Today, more than 270 landfills nationwide are experimenting with this technology.

“It’s mostly about education of the people, at this point,” says Brian Guzzone, LMOP’s project manager for many of the Western states. “The project allows for action on a local level.” Guzzone has watched the environmentally progressive state of California scramble to install this new technology to meet the demand for alternatives to non-renewable energy.

“Garbage will generate electricity for at least 20 years,” says Ken Wells, Integrated Waste Manager for Sonoma County Public Works Department. Wells oversees the publicly owned Central Landfill in California which, since 1996, has been able to produce energy for 10,000 homes. If it uses all of next year’s generated gas, it will have effectively removed the greenhouse gas equivalent of the pollution from 47,000 cars.

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