EPA Gases Up Energy Plan at Landfills

The EPA awards $50,000 to the Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development Council of Sugar Grove, N.C., to develop marketable energy from gas at seven small landfills in the state.

As part of a continuing effort to support President George W. Bush's energy plan, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $50,000 to the Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development Council of Sugar Grove, N.C., to develop marketable energy from gas at seven small landfills in the state.

Besides the economic benefits, EPA believes the grant will reduce global warming gases and reward local communities with cleaner air and better-managed and safer landfills.

Landfill gas can be captured and sold as an energy source for a number of purposes, the most common being generation of electricity at electric utilities. Other uses include generating heat and electricity in industrial facilities; substituting for or supplementing natural gas; and producing compressed natural gas for auto fuel.

Landfill gas is mostly methane and carbon dioxide, with small amounts of other organic compounds. The methane portion is what makes the gas saleable.

Methane, virtually identical to natural gas, contributes 18 percent of all global warming emissions, and is about 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide (the primary greenhouse gas) in trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere. Landfills are the largest human-generated source of methane in the country, contributing about 37 percent of all emissions. Methane also contributes to the formation of smog and poses an explosion hazard if uncontrolled.

This project will demonstrate different clean technologies for utilizing landfill gas; establish a research center dedicated to the study of landfill gas and other renewable resources; and provide assistance to seven landfill sites in western North Carolina.: Yancey/Mitchell County; Avery County; Wilkes County; Wilkes County Germantown; Alleghany County; Watauga County Landfill; and Ashe County. This project can serve as a model for other small landfills interested in marketing their landfill gas.

Since 1996, EPA has had a national rule that controls air pollution from large landfills that emit more than 50 megagrams per year of non-methane organic compounds. Under the rule, the landfills are required to capture the gas anyway, so they have an incentive to take the next logical step and sell it as an energy source.

Hundreds of smaller landfills are not subject to the rule, however, and have less incentive to develop gas utilization projects. Collectively, these small landfills, more than 900 nationwide, emit enough landfill gas to generate more than 1100 megawatts of power, enough to heat more than 700,000 homes per year. By capturing and selling this amount of gas, nearly 10 million tons of global warming gases are prevented from entering the atmosphere, an action equivalent to removing almost 10 million cars from America's roads each year.

Information on EPA's national Landfill Methane Outreach Program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from small landfills is available at www.epa.gov/lmop.

edited by Sandy Smith (ssmith@penton.com)

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