by: Leslie Jones
Deep inside a landfill among the trash and debris lie airless pockets filled with the by-product of decomposing waste; a gas rich in methane. Some areas in landfills, or entire landfills themselves, may be a poor source of methane due to the type of waste buried there. Construction debris, for example, is dry and will not rot, whereas yard waste and food scraps will be consumed by bacteria and decompose in such a way that produces a plethora of methane gas. When bacteria overtake the rotting waste this gas is given off and, when harnessed, can be a valuable source of energy for things such as heat and electricity. This certainly spurs on this side of the landfill vs garbage disposal debate discussed in a previous article aptly titled, “The Garbage Disposal Debate”.
Whole buildings have been successfully heated and/or lit by this increasingly popular method. In fact, power from landfill methane, sometimes called Landfill Gas (LFG), exceeds solar power in New York. In New Jersey, power from landfill methane surpasses the amount of power produced by both solar and wind energy. Landfill methane in those states, and in Connecticut, powers generators that produce a total of 169 megawatts of electricity which is almost as much as a small conventional generating station.
The EPA lists more than 51 operating landfill methane projects in the three states and 7 under construction. It lists opportunities at more than 90 other sites, most in New York with several on Long Island.
If it is not captured, the E.P.A. says, landfill methane becomes a greenhouse gas at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, when it rises into the atmosphere. The agency estimates that landfills account for 25 percent of all methane releases linked to human activity. There are even measures put into place to capture methane at closed, or “capped” landfills, which continue producing methane for approximately 30 years after capping.
At some landfills, methane is not harnessed but is burned off, or flared, keeping it from the atmosphere but, if you’ll pardon the expression, wasting its energy potential. Energy production from landfill methane, however, will go only a short way toward meeting overall energy needs.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) is a voluntary assistance program that helps to reduce methane emissions from landfills by encouraging the recovery and beneficial use of landfill gas (LFG) as an energy resource.
As scouring for alternative energy sources intensifies, landfill methane is getting more attention from state, federal and local governments together with private energy and waste-management companies, landfill owners and energy entrepreneurs. Making LFG an interesting and attractive possibility as an energy source are tax breaks, renewable energy credits and carbon offsets, which are credits for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions made at another location, such as wind farms which create renewable energy and reduce the need for fossil-fuel powered energy.
Along with solar and wind energy, landfill methane proves to be a rich asset in a literal heap of garbage. It’s even been termed “truly a trash-to-treasure” discovery. For more information on waste hauling and recycling, visit our website at www.wasteawaygroup.com