Science

methane hydrates, methane hydrate, methane
Mike Derer/AP
Power lines connected to generators powered by methane gas transfer electricity to the power
grid next to the Kingsland
landfill in Lyndhurst, N.J., Monday, Oct. 6, 2008. (AP)

Methane From Landfills to Power Homes

December 03, 2008 08:54 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
Communities around the country are using their landfills as more than a place to store waste.

“Landfill Gas”

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The phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is taking on new meaning as the world focuses on creating sources of clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, landfills represent the largest human-generated source of methane emissions in the United States.

In an article by the Billings Gazette, Swarupa Ganguli, who works with the EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program, said 455 landfills around the United States are now capturing that methane and converting it into energy.

Jackson County, N.C., has established an “energy park” on one of its old landfills, which provides power to three blacksmiths and some greenhouses, The Smoky Mountain News reported. A landfill in Texas uses gas to heat water that helps make biodiesel for city garbage trucks.

In Montana, officials at Billings Regional Landfill are planning to take a more unique approach to using captured methane; they want to clean the gas and send it through a natural gas pipeline to power homes and businesses. Fewer than 10 landfills participating in methane capture projects are actually cleaning their gas for this purpose.

The city of Billings expects to make at least $20 million from the methane gas sales over 40 years. However, some say the city “gave away what could be millions of dollars in energy credits” that might have been even more valuable than the methane. Others argued that the methane-related revenue was more certain than energy credits, which are bought and sold on a speculative market. Hundreds more methane capture possibilities are being evaluated around the country, Ganguli told the Billings Gazette.

“Twenty years ago, nobody would think about tapping the landfill gas because natural gas and propane were so cheap,” Timm Muth, director of the Jackson County, N.C., Green Energy Park, said in The Smoky Mountain News article. “But once the price of fuels reached a tipping point, landfill gas became economically viable.”

Background: More uses for methane

Producing Electricity
In November, Baltimore, Md., began harnessing methane produced at a wastewater treatment plant, instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. Gas generated by the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant is now powering a generator that provides a portion of the electricity the plant needs to operate. An estimated 12.9 million pounds of carbon dioxide will be kept out of the atmosphere, and the community expects to save up to $2.4 million.
Methane Hydrates
Meanwhile, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey recently completed a study of the vast collections of methane hydrates frozen in “an icelike solid” under the earth’s surface in Alaska. It’s possible that more than 85 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be recoverable using today’s technology, according to The Boston Globe.

More research is necessary, however, to understand whether the development will be cost-effective, and scientists aren’t entirely clear on what recovering the frozen methane could mean for the environment.

Reference: Methane

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