University of New Hampshire University of New Hampshire

University of New Hampshire Teams with Waste Management to Pump Landfill Gas for Energy

The partnership between Waste Management and UNH enables UNH to heat and power 75 to 85 percent of the campus and make money selling surplus energy to the grid.

The University of New Hampshire (UNH) has powered its Durham campus on renewable energy for years. And when it was looking to expand in the space, it just so happened to be at a time when Waste Management was trying to figure out how to manage excess gas produced at its Rochester, N.H., landfill.

The two entities already knew each other well—Waste Management was the university’s hauler—so they decided to take their relationship further. UNH built a 12-mile pipeline from the landfill to the campus to fuel its combined heat and power (COGEN) plant, and it leases property at the landfill where it processes the gas first. The partnership enables UNH to heat and power 75 to 85 percent of the campus and make money selling surplus energy to the grid.

For Waste Management, which maintains the gas collection system and ensures gas quality, it’s meant having a consistent, reliable gas user.

“Any large reuse project such as this one needs a strong relationship between the landfill owner, who is responsible for the wellfield, and the gas user. It can be difficult to balance goals and objectives between the two,” says Bob Magnusson, senior district manager at Waste Management.

There can be challenges when expanding and maintaining the wellfield system, as there are times when parts of it are not available. If equipment is down, the landfill owner/operator has to be able to resolve quickly and communicate to the gas user.  

“Meanwhile, maintaining that balance to address both parties’ goals is important, and it’s about communication. So, we regularly meet and discuss what’s going on, whether it’s maintenance at the university’s facility or construction in our wellfield, to be sure everyone is on the same page.”

EcoLine, as the project is called, is one more tool to help the university reach its emissions reduction goals: a 50 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and an 80 percent cut by 2050.

Plus, it’s been a good learning tool for an institution that’s all about education, says Jennifer Andrews, project director for the UNH Sustainability Institute.

“What’s great about having a power plant on campus is we can show students that we have resources close to home. They learn to think about the right plan for where you are and what your needs are. They learn how you can use what you have efficiently before you look for new resources,” she says.

Students can tour the campus COGEN plant and the processing plant at the landfill. Those majoring in programs with a sustainability focus, from engineering to energy to the arts, as well as those who have a sustainability dual major, learn how energy works on campus.

“Students learn how to think systematically, studying, for instance, options for energy storage, load management and reducing peak energy needs. They explore technical, behavioral and economic considerations [of renewable energy systems],” says Miriam Nelson, director of the UNH Sustainability Institute.

Waste Management has been a part of the educational outreach too, providing plant tours to students from elementary school age to continuing education students, pointing out the equipment and explaining its functions.  

The EcoLine project cost $49 million total with an anticipated payback within 10 years, leveraging revenue from renewable energy credits (RECs) sold to the utility, says Matt O’Keefe, director of Energy and Utilities at UNH.

Funding covered three main components: the processing facility, the pipeline and modifications and expansion to the COGEN plant.

“Annual operating costs vary as we have various components of the project that we will, or can, operate depending on market conditions of the fuels,” says O’Keefe, adding that the greatest operating expenditures are for operation and maintenance of the plant and pipelines and total $3 to $4 million a year. 

Waste Management’s original motivation was to find a user for the gas. “What has developed is a unique collaboration between a private company and public university,” says Magnusson. “It shows it can be done, and successfully.”

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