Turning Rotten Garbage into Gold
If it is buried long enough, even garbage can start smelling like money.
With that in mind, the Trans-Jordan Landfill in West Jordan is tapping into a treasure trove of natural gas produced by the slowly decaying layers of buried baby diapers, discarded spaghetti noodles, soggy grass clippings and used coffee grinds.
Operators of the dump, jointly owned by seven Salt Lake-area cities, expect their new $3 million "landfill gas project" to create an additional revenue source that will help reduce the cost of operating the site. They are teaming up with Michigan-based Granger Energy Co., a privately owned company with experience developing similar landfill projects, and hope to sell the gas to the nearby Interstate Brick Co. as a fuel source for their furnaces.
"Collecting the gas and selling it will be a lot better than letting the methane seep into the atmosphere," said Dwayne Wooley, Trans-Jordan's general manager. "And as long as there is garbage decaying, we will have natural gas."
Landfill gas is a by-product of the decomposition of solid waste. It consists of approximately 50 percent methane (natural gas), 45 percent carbon dioxide and 4 percent nitrogen. There also are traces of oxygen and other organic compounds.
Trans-Jordan's system isn't the first energy project in the state built to take advantage of landfill gas.
In 2002, the Davis County Landfill spent approximately $500,000 to sink 10 gas wells and build a gathering and processing system. In January, the landfill starting sending its natural gas to Hill Air Force Base.
"We're expecting a 10-year payback on our investment," said Nathan Rich, the Davis County Landfill's general manager.
Salt Lake County also has a system in place but, with no pipeline the natural gas produced is getting burned or "flared" off. The county, however, is in negotiations with Detroit Edison to install generators that will use landfill gas to produce electricity that can then be put onto Utah Power's grid or sold to nearby businesses.
"We should be able to produce about 3 megawatts of electricity on a continuous basis," said Dan Bauer, associate director over environmental compliance at the Salt Lake Valley Landfill. A megawatt is enough electricity to run the appliances in about 750 homes.
The Trans-Jordan Landfill already has 47 wells on its 198 acre site and expects to drill an additional 15 to 20 wells before year's end. Before it can begin delivering gas to Interstate Brick, Trans-Jordan operators must build a 2.5 mile low-pressure pipeline to transport the fuel. Construction is expected to begin next spring. Until then, the landfill may have to flare its gas, too.
"This system represents the Trans-Jordan's contribution to cleaning up the atmosphere," Wooley said. "Operating this system will be a lot better than letting the garbage just sit there."
Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News