GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT doesn't accurately describe what happens at more than 340 U.S. landfills that operate landfill-gas-to-energy (LFGE) systems. Those landfills have transformed their decaying garbage into a renewable energy resource. In doing so, the sites are helping to reduce the estimated 55 million metric tons of carbon equivalent that are released into the air each year by landfills.
Every year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP), Washington, recognizes noteworthy LFGE projects that have made significant contributions to the industry by using methane as a renewable resource to generate electricity, heat, hot water and benefit the environment. The six projects that received LMOP awards for 2004 include:
Mississippi earned recognition as State Partner of the Year;
Fauquier County, Va., was named Community Partner of the Year;
Nucor Corp. received an award for Energy Partner of the Year;
Dairyland Power Cooperative also won for Energy Partner of the Year;
Ameresco Inc. received its second consecutive award for Industry Partner of the Year; and
Honeywell Inc., Waste Management Inc. (WM) and Enerdyne Power Systems received the grand prize for Project of the Year.
Here's a look at what each of these organizations did to make LFGE systems more useful environmental tools.
Project of the Year: Honeywell Nylon
The Honeywell Nylon plant in Hopewell, Va., has installed one of the most sophisticated LFGE fueling systems built and pulled off an engineering feat during 2004, according to LMOP.
First, to get landfill gas (LFG) from the Atlantic Waste Disposal Inc. (AWD) Landfill near Waverly, Va., which is owned by Houston-based Waste Management Inc. (WM), the project required the engineering expertise of both companies, plus that of Charlotte, N.C.-based Enerdyne. The project also needed the approvals of three municipalities and seven agencies.
Nevertheless, the group's engineering achievement was a 23-mile pipeline, perhaps the longest dedicated LFG pipeline in the world. The pipeline delivers 4,800 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of LFG, but its capacity is much greater. As AWD produces more gas, the flow could increase to as much as 14,000 cfm.
“The pipeline links one of the largest landfills east of the Mississippi with the largest natural gas consumer east of the Mississippi,” says Brian Guzzone, a team leader for LMOP.
Before the project was implemented, the plant used two streams of fuel — natural gas and a side-stream of natural gas generated by another plant process. The LFG supplies a third stream of fuel. When the plant decided to add LFG to the fuel mixture, it created a technical issue.
The Honeywell Nylon side-stream of fuel contains hydrogen. LFG contains oxygen. So equipment at the landfill and at the plant had to control and monitor the LFG oxygen content carefully because too much oxygen could create a potentially explosive mixture when the gas streams mix. A monitoring system now shuts off the system if a mixture is too oxygen-rich.
Despite the challenges, the landfill now is supplying a portion of the fuel required by Honeywell Nylon's ammonia manufacturing plant. Honeywell Nylon needs ammonia to make caprolactam, the operation's main product and a component of nylon fiber.
“The LFGE project offsets 15 percent of the natural gas used for fuel in this operation,” says Richard Higbie, plant manager.
According to Steven White, Enerdyne director of engineering, the landfill will supply gas to Honeywell for 25 years and benefit the environment. “Using LFG at Honeywell will avoid harmful emissions equal to 260,000 cars,” he says. “It will save the equivalent of 370,000 barrels of oil per year. The gas produces 30 megawatts of renewable energy, enough power to heat and cool 22,000 homes.”
Industry Partner of the Year: Ameresco
Ameresco earned the LMOP Industry Partner of the Year award on the strength of five projects in 2004.
“Since entering the LFG industry in 2001, Ameresco has brought on-line an unprecedented eight LFGE projects,” says LMOP's Guzzone. “These eight projects represent more than 30 megawatts of renewable energy.”
In what ranks as perhaps the most interesting project of 2004, Ameresco commissioned a project that will generate 1.2 megawatts of electricity from LFG produced by a landfill at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Ameresco operates and maintains the facility under a 20-year contract. For the most part, Utah Power will purchase the electricity. During emergencies, however, the electricity will be diverted to power Hill's Command Center.
Other Ameresco projects for 2004 include a 5.7 megawatt electrical generation plant constructed at the Chicopee Landfill, Chicopee, Mass. The installation uses a new General Electric engine to produce electricity, which is sold to Chicopee Electric Light. Ameresco plans to increase the power plant's capacity to 7.6 megawatts by 2006.
At the Janesville, Wis., landfill, Ameresco has powered up a 3 megawatt LFGE plant. The installation generates electricity with three Waukesha engines. Electricity is sold to Wisconsin Power and Light Co., a subsidiary of Alliant Energy, Madison, Wis.
A fourth project moves gas through a 4.5-mile pipeline from WM's Pine Bluff Landfill in Atlanta to Gold Kist Inc., the nation's third-largest integrated chicken company, to generate electricity.
Finally, Ameresco has developed a LFGE project for the Dairyland Power Cooperative in Eau Claire, Wis.
This is the second consecutive year that Ameresco has earned LMOP's Industry Partner of the Year award.
Energy Partner of the Year in the Electricity Category: Dairyland Power Cooperative
The Dairyland Power Cooperative, La Crosse, Wis., supplies power to 25 member cooperatives and 20 municipalities serving 575,000 people in rural Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. Dairyland currently generates most of its energy from coal-fired plants, but the cooperative recently developed an interest in more environmentally friendly sources of power.
Usually, developers such as Ameresco initiate LFGE projects. The developer arranges financing, engineers and constructs the project. The developer also typically sets up contractual arrangements to purchase LFG from the landfill and sell electricity to an electrical transmission company.
However, a conventional LFGE economic model did not fit Dairyland's cost-structure. The electricity would have been too expensive for the cooperative's members. “As a cooperative, we have access to less expensive financing through the federal government,” says Tony McKimmy, who managed the LFGE project for Dairyland. “We were able to finance the project ourselves and cut out the middleman.”
Dairyland contracted with Onyx Waste Services Inc., Milwaukee, to purchase 1,300 cfm of LFG from the Seven Mile Creek Landfill near Eau Claire, Wis. The cooperative also retained Ameresco to engineer and build the generating facility, which runs three engines supplied by Waukesha.
The $5 million generating plant draws 1,300 cfm of LFG from the Onyx landfill and generates 3 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 2,600 homes.
“With this project, Dairyland is paving the way for other utilities and power providers by demonstrating that renewable energy project barriers can be overcome with innovative thinking and partnership arrangements,” Guzzone says.
Energy Partner of the Year in the Direct End User Category: Nucor Corp.
Nucor Corp., Charlotte, N.C., makes new steel from scrap steel. With operations in 14 states, the company ranks as the largest steel producer in the United States. In 2001, Nucor purchased a manufacturing facility in Decatur, Ala., and began exploring the potential of LFGE power for the plant.
The company retained Granger Energy LLC, Lansing, Mich., to develop the project. Granger had installed the LFG collection system of 80 vertical wells in the neighboring Morgan County Landfill. In addition, Granger had built four LFGE projects over the years.
Granger contracted to purchase 650 cfm of LFG from the landfill, enough energy to heat 4,900 homes each year. Granger also installed a 1-mile pipeline to move the gas to the Nucor plant. At the landfill, Granger installed the equipment necessary to clean, dry and compress the gas before it enters the pipeline.
Nucor itself designed and installed the system required to use the gas. Making steel from scrap steel requires enormous amounts of energy — far more than 650 cfm of LFG can supply. So Nucor wanted to defray the cost of energy. To do that, the company built a station to mix the LFG with natural gas and adapted its furnaces to accept the mixed fuel.
“Nucor now recycles scrap steel by using renewable landfill gas in their process, making this project the ultimate in recycling,” Guzzone says.
Community Partner of the Year: Fauquier County, Va.
Encompassing 71 acres, the Fauquier County Landfill, Warrenton, Va., is so small that federal regulations do not require LFG recovery. But Ellis Bingham, the recently retired former director of the county's Department of Environmental Services, decided that the close proximity of residents and a long-term environmental view made a strong argument for collecting LFG and disposing of it. And Pepco Energy Services, a LFGE developer based in Arlington, Va., came calling.
Pepco offered to install a gas collection system and to manage the system in exchange for LFG. Bingham thought it was a good trade. The agreement ensured the landfill would face no capital expenditure and no longer emit LFG into the atmosphere. In exchange, Pepco would get the gas for free and be able to make a small LFGE project turn a profit.
“If you're interested in doing these small 1 and 2 megawatt projects, this kind of approach works well for the landfill and the developer,” says Michael Boswell, manager of landfill gas projects for Pepco.
Pepco installed the well field, a gas compression and drying system, a condensate management system, two Waukesha engines, and a grid interconnection system, then began selling electricity to the grid in February 2005. According to Boswell, the well field produces about 350 cfm, enough to fuel the generation of 2,000 kilowatts.
“It has been said that, in many instances, the greatest impediment to beneficial use of landfill gas is that the cost of doing nothing is small,” Bingham notes. “True enough. But if interested parties collaborate on areas of need, a project can be devised that can provide positive results for landfill operators, developers, electricity consumers and the environment.”
State Partner of the Year: Mississippi
States play a key role in promoting LFGE projects, and in 2004, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) was committed to landfill gas-to-energy.
“Mississippi discovered a true LFGE champion in MDEQ,” Guzzone says. “Under the leadership of Pradip Bhowal, the agency has built an LMOP program approach that is an ideal model for other states.”
According to Bhowal, MDEQ's environmental administrator, the agency has identified 17 state landfills capable of supporting LFGE projects. “We expect our first project to come on line in the first quarter of 2005,” Bhowal says.
That project will capture gas at WM's 176-acre Pecan Grove Landfill near Pass Christian in southern Mississippi. The project developer, Austin, Texas-based Toro Energy, has built a 5-mile pipeline that will carry the LFG to a DuPont plant in Delisle, Miss. DuPont plans to use the gas to fire its boilers. Bhowal says the landfill will supply fuel to DuPont for at least 20 years.
With the first project approaching completion, Bhowal is looking forward to more. “Diversifying our energy sources is very important,” he says. “Alternate sources of energy include wind, solar and landfill gas. But the sun doesn't stay out for 24 hours, and wind doesn't blow for 24 hours. Then there's LFG. A landfill generates LFG 24 hours a day, every day, making it one of the best resources for alternate energy. Landfills are not a waste. They are a resource. Why not use this resource?”
Garbage in, energy out.
Michael Fickes is Waste Age's business editor based in Cockeysville, Md.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began battling the problem of landfill methane emissions in 1994 with the creation of the Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP), Washington. LMOP is a voluntary program that encourages the recovery and use of landfill gas as an energy resource. To do that, LMOP forms partnerships with communities, landfill owners, utilities, power marketers, states, project developers, tribes and nonprofit organizations. Partners play key roles in developing LFGE projects.