Strategic Energy Management - Electrical Energy Conservation

Garbage to Energy: Mining Landfills for Methane

In the climate change discussion, methane emissions are often overlooked because they represent a small volume of overall emissions. But when compared to carbon dioxide, methane is over 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere and breaks down in a relatively short 9-12 years. Methane's short life means reducing emissions now will have the largest impact on slowing climate change.

EQS is uniquely qualified to provide environmental engineering in meeting the requirements of projects that advance methane recovery and use of methane as a clean energy because EQS staff expertise enables EQS to promote scientific advancement as it pertains to carbon reduction project assessment and global carbon reduction.

Landfills account for nearly 25% of the methane generated from human sources, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. As organic material in a landfill breaks down, methane gas is released. Since the Clean Air Act of 1996, large landfills are required to either burn this greenhouse gas (called flaring) to prevent it from entering the atmosphere or convert it into energy. But in this last decade, more and more landfills have begun to view methane as a plentiful clean energy source. The National Solid Wastes Management Association reports that methane can be captured and converted to electricity to power homes, businesses, manufacturing plants, vehicles and more.

Methane has many benefits over other forms of renewable energy, and unlike wind and solar power, methane can be collected continuously. Using methane as an energy source directly offsets the use of coal and oil. Landfill projects destroy methane, which reduces harmful air pollution around the landfill and prevents the greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere. Flaring methane wastes a valuable energy source: the EPA estimates that up to 90 percent of methane emitted from landfills can be captured for energy.
According to the NSWMA, over 500 landfill methane-to-energy projects are currently in operation, generating approximately 1,563 megawatts of electricity a year; this energy could heat or power approximately 1.6 million homes. And many more projects are in the works.

Since it is less economical to convert methane from smaller landfills, these landfills can turn to the EPAís Landfill Methane Outreach Program for support. LMOP works with landfills to determine the economic feasibility of their desired project, create partnerships between community interests, and help find sources of funding, though the LMOP itself is not a direct source of funding.

Methane-to-energy projects are eligible to take part in the carbon credit market. The carbon credit market provides the potential of a return on an initial investment for organizations that reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. This makes for a more secure investment, as it provides these organizations with a potential source of revenue. Project affiliates can use programs like the Climate Action Reserve to enter the carbon credit market. CAR is an emissions registry that develops standards for and tracks emissions (or offsets). CAR records a projectís offsets, and when a member project lowers their emissions, CAR makes sure the offsets are independently verified. A project member then earns carbon credits (in this case methane is given a carbon equivalency value) which they can then potentially sell to outside dealers for profit.


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