Turning Garbage Into Energy: Guest Post by Ashley Halligan


As we try to figure out how to meet our increasing energy demands in a

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

more sustainable way and as controversy grows about opening up drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic and off-shore, an interesting local option is a byproduct produced by our landfill garbage – methane gas! Methane is a “greenhouse gas” that is 23 times more potent then carbon dioxide as a “heat trapping gas,” so discovering ways to capture what is being released from our landfills, and “reusing it” to keep our “lights on” is not only innovative, but it is crucial to helping curb climate change!

Grab the kids in your life (this is for the ones that are in middle school or above) and learn more about this interesting relationship between our garbage and the power it can create, in the following guest post by Ashley Halligan!

Resource Recovery Facilities: An Economic And Efficient Energy Supply

Landfill gas (LFG) projects are growing in momentum as landfill facilities, environmentally conscious organizations, county departments, and even universities bond to reduce municipal solid waste (MSW)–which amounted to 250 million tons in 2010. Landfill gas can be collected via wells scattered throughout a landfill, tapping methane produced from the decomposition process.

Having had the opportunity to interview experts from two sustainable resource recovery projects, David Specca, Assistant Director for Bioenergy and Controlled Environment Agriculture at the Rutgers University EcoComplex, and Barry Edwards, Director of Engineering and Utilities at Catawba County, I learned about the symbiotic relationships these partnership types can form.

Catawba County, North Carolina’s EcoComplex is an 800-acre site serving as an example of a multipurpose facility stemming from their waste reduction efforts. Wells tapping methane throughout their site produce enough energy to supply 1,500 residences; meanwhile, heat energy is piped to Appalachian State University to be converted into biodiesel.

The site also has a unique partnership–an on-site lumberyard whose

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

scraps are converted into pallets by a pallet company which also happens to be a part of the Complex.

Edwards explains, “Our industrial park is employing industrial ecology symbiosis by combining waste management, energy production, and university research. The EcoPlex incorporates shared, mutually beneficial relationships between industry byproducts and required manufacturing resources.”

Another example of organizations working together finding opportunity of landfills, is the Rutgers University EcoComplex. Having a 100-acre site, methane wells capture enough energy in the landfill to produce energy for multiple facilities–including a greenhouse producing more than ten thousand plants each month.

Specca elaborates, “Because LFG generally converts 25-30 percent of energy in the gas to electricity, we’re promoting technologies that can utilize heat for other purposes such as heating a greenhouse or warehouse–this can essentially transform a resource recovery center into a renewable energy center for a cluster of industries that can take advantage of the heat and electricity.”

The experts agree that these types of symbiotic relationships will continue form as more facilities realize the mutual benefits. Edwards says, “Applied industrial ecology to waste management will become the predominant waste management method–so you’ll see many similar projects in the immediate future. In fact, we average two tours per week at our complex–that’s the current level of interest shown by others.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is also encouraging landfill operators to undertake such projects, launching a Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP)–hoping facilities can distribute energy to communities, utilities, or other facilities.

Do you have experience working on this kind of project? Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences below.

Ashley Halligan is a market analyst at Austin-based Software Advice, a consumer resource. Connect with her via LinkedIn or follow her travels on Facebook.

This entry was posted in In The News, Recycling, Renewable Energy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *