Green Energy Solutions—from a Landfill?

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In the race to find a lasting solution to the global energy crisis, many people are unfamiliar with one of the fastest-growing alternative energy resources—landfill gas.

While they’re certainly not as glamorous as solar energy panels or sprawling windmill farms, landfills across the country have the potential to power millions of homes, boost local economies, and reduce harmful greenhouse emissions. It’s a renewable energy solution that is right at our doorstep.

How Landfill Gas is Created

First, let’s take a look at how landfill gas is produced. Landfill waste and organic material is broken down by trillions of microorganisms. As material is decomposed, landfill gas is emitted. This gas is composed of 50-60% methane and 40-50% carbon dioxide1.

Typically, these emitted gases (also known as greenhouse gases) are burned off into the atmosphere. These gases have a host of negative effects on our environment, including deteriorating local air quality, and more notably, contributing to global warming.

Transforming Greenhouse Gases

There is another option. Instead of letting landfill gas infiltrate and pollute our environment, there are a host of emerging technologies that transform the gas into clean, usable energy. At landfill gas to energy (LFGTE) facilities where these technologies are implemented, methane gas is collected and purified of any methane or other contaminates through the use of an energy recovery system. The landfill gas (LFG) is then used to generate electricity by combusting the LFG in internal combustion engines2.

Uses for LFG Energy

The electricity generated in these facilities typically powers surrounding homes and neighborhoods, but direct use of LFG is also used in some applications. LFG can be transformed into a renewable fuel that is on-par with the cost of natural gas, and is often used in surrounding factories and industrial businesses. Waste Management recently even developed a technology that transforms LFG into fuel for fleet vehicles3.

The potential impact for these technologies is enormous. LFG Technologies, a landfill gas solutions company, has said that in just 50 landfills alone, they’ve been able to produce “over 150 megawatts of power and consume billions of cubic feet of landfill gas daily.”4

Long-term Benefits

Landfill gas isn’t just about creating a clean source of renewable energy—it’s about diminishing the impact of our waste. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, landfills are the second-largest source of methane emissions caused by humans in the United States5. LFGTE is a great opportunity to decrease the environmental damage of these methane emissions, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions from non-renewable energy that would otherwise be used.

LFGTE makes our communities healthier too. By capturing LFG from a local landfill, communities improve their air quality, reduce air pollutants, and provide an economic boost to the entire community through new jobs and savings for the end user.

Using LFGTE, we can turn our trash into treasure.

1http://www.treehugger.com/renewable-energy/landfill-gas-to-energy-a-growing-alternative-energy-resource.html

2http://www.epa.gov/lmop/documents/pdfs/pdh_chapter1.pdf

3https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXUk0KUCIy0&feature=channel_video_title

4http://www.lfgtech.com/

5http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/usinventoryreport.html

Hayden Beck
Hayden Beck is a freelance writer that covers a wide array of topics - from technology to personal health and wellness. He has most recently worked with BambooHR & The Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness. When not working, you can find Hayden hiking with his dog or spending time with friends.