LFG and the Local Potential
Making landfill-gas energy work for communities with small landfills
Twelve percent of the nation’s approximately 500 operational landfill-gas (LFG) energy projects use LFG from “small” landfills (i.e., those with less than 1.5 million tons of waste in place).
Yet hundreds of additional small municipal solid waste landfills are waiting to be tapped. These smaller landfills are often overlooked as candidates for LFG energy projects, but in many cases they offer tremendous energy potential. This article highlights how landfill owners and project developers have been capturing this energy potential through creative applications and how these projects are providing financial and environmental benefits for the communities in which they are located.
Opportunities and Challenges
While procuring project financing and finding suitable end users are potential barriers common to LFG use projects of all sizes, these challenges can be particularly difficult for small landfills. Landfill owners and operators can overcome these challenges by selecting from a variety of innovative options for end uses and energy recovery. Because minimizing the cost of transporting LFG energy to users is critical to a project’s economic feasibility, onsite or nearby use of LFG is often the most financially beneficial solution. Thus, for landfills with less than 1.5 million tons of waste in place, finding a local use for LFG often can be the most attractive option. As demonstrated by the projects discussed here, landfills and project developers have been creative in finding nearby or onsite uses. Opportunities for small landfills include direct use, electricity production with microturbines, combined heat and power applications, and more.
Landfills as an Engine for Community Development
Landfills are a community responsibility and can also be a community asset. While smaller landfills might not present a strong investment opportunity for private investors, municipal financing may be available to help facilitate LFG energy project development. Landfill sites or surrounding property can provide development opportunities for community parks and recreation buildings, artist centers, or other places serving the community. Nearby buildings, such as recreational facilities, wastewater treatment plants, schools, and correctional facilities, are typically good candidates for LFG use because of the low cost of transporting the LFG energy to the end user.
The ideal situation is to find a single end user that will use the LFG year-round. Depending on site conditions, landfills can also be ideal places to locate other sources of renewable energy, such as photovoltaic cells or small wind turbines, turning landfills into both community centers and energy centers.
In Lebanon, PA, PPL Renewable Energy (PPL) partnered with the Greater Lebanon Refuse Authority (GLRA) to create a community asset centered around renewable energy. They developed an onsite renewable energy center at the GLRA Landfill (1.3 million tons of waste-in-place), consisting of a 2,000-watt wind turbine, a 1,000-watt solar array, and a 3,200-kW LFG energy project.
“The Greater Lebanon Refuse Authority is dedicated to conserving natural resources. Not only will this facility generate electricity from a renewable fuel, but we will also work to raise awareness in the community about the benefits of alternative energy,” says Michael Pavelek, executive director of GLRA.
GLRA and PPL partnered with Lebanon County, local schools and universities, and the local community to provide a working educational forum for national and international visitors, engineering firms, and students to learn about the benefits of producing renewable power from a variety of sources. The Renewable Energy Education Facility provides a unique educational experience of how wind, solar, and landfill gas can be combined in a mutually beneficial way.
Power of Partnerships
Opportunities for creative use of LFG can be identified through partnerships among landfill operators and communities, state agencies, project developers, and end users. These partnerships can also help open the door to sources of funding and support for project development. While site-specific engineering and technical specifications are important considerations for the operations of a project, strong partners are critical to success. It is important to reach out to stakeholders—such as municipal and regulatory authorities, citizen groups, and adjacent landowners—early in the project development process in order to build strong partnerships and allies.
In 2003, Antioch, IL, began using LFG to power and heat the 262,000-square-foot Antioch Community High School. Twelve microturbines use a relatively low 180 standard cubic feet per minute (scfm) of LFG from the closed H.O.D. (Lake) Landfill to produce 360 kW of power—enough to meet the needs of the whole school, with excess power sold to ComEd. The project’s efficiency is further enhanced through the capture of the waste heat from the microturbines, which is used to heat the school. The project has provided Antioch High School with significant energy cost savings of more than $100,000 per year. This project also teaches students about renewable energy and resource management and the important role LFG can play to meet energy needs.
For the LFG energy project at Antioch Community High School, diverse entities, from the landfill owner and project developer to the utility and the project financier, came together to make this project happen. LMOP Partners Capstone Turbine Corp., Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd), Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, RMT, Inc., Unison Solutions, and Waste Management Inc. (WMI) played a role in the project’s success. The Antioch High School business administrator contacted WMI with the idea of using gas from the nearby landfill to supply energy for the school. With the idea firmly in hand, RMT completed a grant application to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The application was successful, and the school was awarded a $550,000 grant from the state’s Renewable Energy Resources Program for design and construction of the facility. The school district funded the remaining costs by issuing a revenue bond. RMT led the design and construction of this LFG energy project. Capstone Turbine Corp. developed the bank of 12 microturbines, which were installed by Unison Solutions.
Current onsite uses include leachate evaporation, building heating, and electrical generation, while examples of offsite use by nearby facilities include existing wastewater treatment facilities or municipal buildings or collocation of new facilities. Facilities that have been newly collocated at small landfills to utilize the LFG include artist centers, greenhouses, and aquaculture. Jackson County, North Carolina’s Green Energy Park taps LFG from a small landfill to provide energy, environmental, and financial benefits for the community.
Community creativity and the desire to use renewable energy resources and encourage economic development and environmental protection helped launch the Jackson County Green Energy Park. The Green Energy Park offers students, energy professionals, educators, and tourists the opportunity to experience LFG use as a fuel source. LFG is collected from the closed Jackson County Landfill in Dillsboro to meet the energy needs of artisan studios, greenhouses, and other ventures. The closed landfill contains about 750,000 tons of waste in place and supplies about 40 scfm to energy park facilities. LFG is the sole fuel source for several blacksmith studios located in the energy park, and the county is nearing completion of glass-blowing studios that will be fueled entirely by LFG.
“When using local tax dollars to finance a project, you have to find out what works in your community,” says Timm Muth, project manager for Jackson County. “You can’t build a craft facility everywhere, but here in Jackson County, tourism and recreation are the major industries.” In addition to the craft studios, LFG is used for heating a series of six greenhouses covering more than 7,000 square feet. The greenhouses are used to grow plants that are used in county landscaping projects as well as sold to local landscapers and large private developers.
Stan Steury, who was the project coordinator, sums up the significance of this project: “The efforts of EnergyXchange have done much for the LFG energy field: proved that LFG energy projects at small landfills can be beneficial; shown the power of partnerships; drawn nationwide attention to LFG energy; spawned development in neighboring areas; and become a model for other projects.”
Author's Bio: Tom Frankiewicz, works with the Landfill Methane Outreach Program.