Renewable energy is all the rage these days. With our rapidly-dwindling fossil fuels and the ever-increasing focus on climate change, sustainable options are increasingly being sought out and adopted. Landfill gas is one of the lesser-known players in this space, yet many businesses are already beginning to reap the benefits.
Sure, it’s less trendy than solar, wind and geothermal power (not to mention stinkier), but the harnessing of landfill gas for energy is a worthwhile pursuit which is already proving its value to many a business. As the largest man-made source of methane, landfills are not only contributing significantly to the greenhouse effect, but are a huge untapped resource for renewable energy.
Landfill gas is dangerous! (If left alone)
Did you know that landfill gas poses a very real risk for accident and explosion? Comprised of around 60% methane and 30 – 40% carbon dioxide, this stinky by-product is not only bad for the environment, it’s also really dangerous for the surrounding neighbourhood.
In fact, in Lascoe (Derbyshire, United Kingdom) in 1986, landfill gas caused an explosion which resulted in the demolition of one bungalow and the quarantine of two others subsequently deemed unfit for habitation. A sudden and dramatic drop in barometric pressure (29 millibars in 7 hours, according to www.landfill-gas.com) caused the combustion of gases emanating from the nearby landfill site, which had crept into its neighbouring properties.
Subsequent monitoring of the escaping gases resulted in attempts to extract the dangerous vapours from the site, with limited success (due to the location of a water table in the area), before more regulation was brought in, along with advanced extraction techniques.
Win-win for the environment
According to the Environmental Defence Fund, methane is 84 times more potent than CO2, in the short term.
“While methane doesn’t linger as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, it is initially far more devastating to the climate because of how effectively it absorbs heat. In the first two decades after its release, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Both types of emissions must be addressed if we want to effectively reduce the impact of climate change.”
By harnessing this previous pesky side-effect of landfill, not only are harmful greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere, but businesses are able to rely less heavily (if at all) on traditional non-renewable energy sources such as coal. If fact, by using landfill gas to power over 400,000 homes each day, Waste Management in the USA are offsetting up to two million tonnes of coal every year!
Big business is already on board!
As of 2012, the number of landfill gas projects in the USA was sitting at 594—increasing from 399 in 2005. Since then, the numbers have continued to grow. Texan firm, Waste Management report that they’ll be opening an additional 60 facilities within five years. These facilities are not only used to provide power to homes, but also to big business. Organisations such as BMW are using landfill gas to power a huge portion of their operations.
The BMW manufacturing plant in Greer (South Carolina) acquires over 60% of its energy requirements from nearby landfill in the form of extracted methane gas. While saving the firm around $1USD million per year in energy costs, it also reduces greenhouse gas emissions by around 60,000 tonnes per year.
“BMW wants to do whatever it can to make Upstate South Carolina a better place to live,” said Dr. Helmut Leube, president of BMW Manufacturing Corp. “This project allows BMW to take a wasted source of energy and use it to generate electricity, which benefits the environment and area residents through lower emissions.”
Furthermore, many regional councils in Australia are using landfill gas from corporations such as LGP (Landfill Gas & Power) of Western Australia, who currently produces 75GWh (75 million watt-hours) every year.
Much like solar and wind power, landfill gas is a readily available resource that until only a couple of decades ago, went untapped. The difference however, is that landfill gas, if left to its own devices is a dangerous greenhouse gas—not only contributing directly to climate change, but capable of causing catastrophic explosions within the surrounding landscape. Harnessing the renewable energy source of landfill gas not only makes sense from an environmental point of view, but also contributes to cheaper, cleaner energy and increased safety around landfill sites.