Can landfills be reimagined as a resource? The people behind the Susbus Project think so. They are working to take the methane coming from landfills -- garbage dumps being the largest human source of methane -- and turn it into fuel. It's a complex process, as methane is not the only constituent of landfill gas, but the project is making serious headway.
Susbus started a decade ago as an academic project, looking at the feasibility, benefits and potential use of landfill methane extraction. They've worked out the technical details, and are now moving to the stage of examining more closely the commercial applications. New Scientist reported recently on the project, and noted that Europe alone has the potential to generate up to 94 billion cubic meters of methane annually from landfills, with only 1% of that currently being tapped. The remainder either escapes into the atmosphere (where it is a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide) or is simply flared -- burned off to prevent explosive accumulation -- dumping a variety of impurities into the air.
Project coordinators claim four key advantages to the model:
1.Removal of pollution problems
Gas arising from landfill sites in many parts of the world is uncontrolled and contains harmful gases. At low cost Susbus can clean up these emissions and reduce local pollution.
2. Low cost technology
The technology is simple and consists of relatively inexpensive components. Maintenance and operating costs are low due to the lack of moving parts. It should be capable of widespread application.
3. Multiple beneficial uses
The purified gas can be used in many ways depending upon the location of the site, quality and quantity of gas and local markets for fuel. It can produce cleaner gas for power generation, gas for transmission into pipelines as well as high value vehicle fuel.
4. Widespread environmental benefits
Depending upon the final use of the purified gas the technology provides many benefits from the substitution of fossil fuels, low emission vehicle fuel, more efficient and cleaner power generation and the development of new local fuel source.
The Susbus website gives a basic breakdown of how their methane reclamation process works. A report from 2002 (DOC) is available for download, going into great detail about the technical, organizational and economic aspects of the project; at nearly 100 pages, it's hefty reading. Be aware: the link is to a zip archive of a Word document, so you will need a Word-compatible application to read the file.
I know that Climate Care, a carbon offset company in the UK, are also working on developing landfill methane as a source of power: www.climatecare.com
add Acrion (www.acrion.com) to that list. they've got a partnership with Mack Trucks to market the LFG->LNG system in a package with LNG garbage trucks, so the trucks could fuel up right on site. clean AND renewable, nice trick.
This thecnologie is viable and can even go much futher in real worl aplication. We have recently completed construction of a 300 square metre theater that is heated exclusively from hot water that is produced as a by-product of electric power plant that works from extracted methane from an ajacent land fill...very efficient. The power plant has been woring for over five years and has a life expentency of 20 years
Their process has H2S-absorbers and activated carbon filters which must be replaced. It looks like the CO2 Wash system may be more economical.
I'm all for using landfill gas productively. Waste not, want not.