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The Truth About Waste as an Important Energy Source | brunell

If you live in Spokane, you know of its waste-to-energy facility, which burns up to 800 tons of solid waste per day and can generate 22 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 13,000 homes.

It is part of Spokane’s overall system that encourages recycling and waste reduction as well as electricity generation.

But what about landfills that spew greenhouse gases from decaying waste?

Earlier this year, lawmakers in Washington approved legislation requiring large dumpsites to capture methane gas, preventing its escape into the atmosphere. It says owners of landfills containing 450,000 tonnes of waste or more – or landfills that generate methane equivalent to three million British thermal units of heat per hour – must install and operate gas collection and control systems .

Washington has 24 landfills that store more than 450,000 tons of trash, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology. And there are at least a few dozen – mostly closed – that store less than 450,000 tonnes.

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) from Washington’s landfills average about 50% methane and 45% carbon dioxide. They account for about 3% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, roughly equivalent to the annual emissions of 320,000 cars, according to a 2021 Department of Ecology report.

Nationally, methane accounted for 10% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to the EPA, landfills account for 17% of the nation’s methane emitted, behind fossil fuel production (30%) and livestock-related emissions (27%).

Although methane, often eclipsed by CO2 in the climate debate, has a shorter lifespan, it is far more potent. Because man-made methane emissions in the United States accounted for about 15% of air pollution last year, they require special attention.

The EPA has a landfill methane awareness website, part of which promotes actions to control landfill methane emissions. In 2020, landfill gas emissions were equivalent to 20.3 million passenger vehicles driven for one year, or the CO2 emissions from the energy consumption of nearly 11.9 million homes for one year.

The EPA adds: At the same time, methane emissions from municipal landfills represent a lost opportunity to capture and use an important energy resource.

As part of a new green energy project, the Klickitat County Utility District (PUD) and landfill owner Republic Services are purifying landfill methane from the Roosevelt Regional Landfill in the form of renewable natural gas and feed it into the Northwest Williams Pipeline in southern Washington.

Trains from across Washington deliver 300 containers of trash and garbage daily to the 2,500-acre site, located 75 miles southwest of Richland. Roosevelt’s current methane output generates 20 megawatts of electricity, enough for 20,000 homes. The owners hope to be able to increase production to 36 megawatts and power around 30,000 homes.

In the past, landfill capping contained the methane on site. For example, at the Midway (Kent) and Hawks Prairie (Lacey) landfills along Interstate 5, pipes were drilled into the landfill, then the methane was collected and burned.

Mother Earth News has reported new technology to boost gas recovery.

“The gases can be sucked under a landfill and cleaned, leaving pure methane to power an engine that converts the energy into usable electricity. Using this science, waste treatment centers capture and convert gas into natural gas, reducing odor, the threat of explosion, ozone damage and the possibility of smog formation.

Hopefully our elected officials will consider landfill gas as an energy source as well. This means that they will have to accept methane – the key component of liquefied natural gas (LNG) – as a source of heating, cooking and transport, and include it in our future energy portfolio.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He is a past president of the Association of Washington Business, the oldest and largest business organization in the state, and lives in Vancouver. Contact [email protected]


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