Thursday, January 07, 2010

Converting Garbage to Gas: Landfill Energy Projects On the Rise Across U.S.

The only thing worse than getting stuck behind a stinky garbage truck at a traffic light is when the light turns green and you're left in a dark cloud of choking diesel exhaust.

It's disgusting.

Fortunately, as the Seattle Times reports, that experience is on the decline, as companies such as Waste Management convert their garbage dumps into landfill methane plants, which can produce thousands of gallons of liquid natural gas per day.

Since natural gas burns much cleaner than diesel fuel, the result is a classic sustainability win-win: garbage trucks that burn cleaner, powered by fuel that's cheaper and created from garbage-produced methane, which otherwise would seep from the landfill as a potent heat-trapping (greenhouse) gas!  

Almost 500 Waste Management Inc. garbage and recycling trucks run on this new source of environmentally friendly fuel instead of dirty diesel.

In a state that has passed the most stringent greenhouse-gas-reduction goals in the United States, the climate change benefits of this plant are twofold — methane from the trash heap is captured before entering the environment and use of the fuel produces less carbon dioxide than conventional gasoline.

"We've built the largest landfill-to-LNG plant in the world; this plant produces 13,000 gallons a day of LNG," said Jessica Jones, a landfill manager for Houston-based Waste Management. "It will take 30,000 tons a year of CO2 from the environment."

In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency counted 517 active landfill energy projects in the nation's approximately 1,800 operational municipal landfills. That was up almost 50 percent from 2000, and 28 percent from 2004.

I'd love to learn more about the ROI of these landfill methane production systems -- how long it takes for the investments of companies such as Waste Management to pay off.  After they are paid off, of course, the gas is extremely low cost, increasing profits for the owner of the landfill.

Does anyone happen to know more about the infrastructure and operating costs of these systems, as well as their ROI?

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  2. Anonymous8:35 AM